An increased focus on meeting workforce demands may be an indication of what the future has in store for data and analytics leadership roles
The roles of the CDO, CAO and CDAO are constantly evolving. As we’ve seen this year, global events can completely transform an organization’s business priorities. When this happens, data and analytics leaders must adapt to realign their strategies with these shifting goalposts.
But while COVID-19 has had a significant impact on US businesses in the short-term, the fundamental building blocks organizations need to advance their data strategies remain unchanged.
What’s more, many business leaders see data playing a key role in guiding their organizations through this pandemic.
“Data is foundational for driving insights in this ‘new normal’,” explains Jodi Morton, CDO at KPMG LLP. “My team is in the thick of helping to drive insights that will help our leadership manage our firm in these unique and uncertain times.”
“The question is: Do you take this opportunity to slow down and be somewhat conservative?” she asks. “Or, do you take advantage of a unique environment like this to accelerate some of your future-focused investments?”
Our latest research sheds light on how US organizations may be answering that question. But in order to interpret the findings, we also need to consider how the sector has matured over the past 12 months.
Four Priorities for Data and Analytics Leaders
Pre-COVID-19, the big story from our 2019 CDAO Spring and Fall surveys was the rise in data leaders citing ‘meeting workforce demands and retaining talent’ as a key priority. With 42.9% of respondents citing this as a key objective, it overtook ‘progressing to cognitive computing and machine learning’ to become the fourth most frequently cited data and analytics goal.
“One of the things I’m focused on is really developing my team,” explains Charles Thibault, VP Analytics at telecoms company IDT Corporation. “I’ll be introducing new tools to really focus more on predictive modelling and data science, as opposed to analytics.”
“It’s not that cognitive computing has been ‘demoted’,” adds Dr Chris Boone, former VP and Head of Global Medical Epidemiology and Big Data Analysis at Pfizer. “I just think that the most pressing need is that it all falls down if you don’t have people in place to actually do the work.”
“We’re all competing for very similar talent, irrespective of what your industry is”– Dr Chris Boone, VP and Head of Global Medical Epidemiology and Big Data Analysis, Pfizer
Meanwhile, building an efficient data management framework, evolving analytics programs to reveal actionable customer insights and developing more efficient business processes were the most frequently cited goals in 2019’s CDAO Spring and CDAO Fall surveys.
These were selected by 57.3%, 52.2% and 45.8% of the 709 people who responded to these surveys, respectively. Given the similar findings in all our global surveys last year, it’s clear that these goals are now widely viewed as essential for data and analytics success.
The ‘COVID-19 Effect’ on Data Strategy
There’s no doubt that companies are looking again at their data and analytics priorities in light of the global pandemic. But our research shows that this doesn’t necessarily mean making cutbacks.
In fact, 36.8% of respondents to our COVID-19 survey expect their department’s budget to remain the same throughout 2020, while 21.1% expect theirs to increase. However, the remaining 42.1% do anticipate some budget cuts in the coming months.
Whatever the case, all data leaders are now revisiting their five-year plans to explore how they might prioritize process optimization, integrating new data sources into their platforms and providing timely reports and dashboards in the short-term.
“One of the things I’m focused on is really developing my team. I’ll be introducing new tools to really focus more on predictive modelling and data science”– Charles Thibault, VP Analytics, IDT Corporation
“We need to be nimble in what we’re doing,” Morton explains. “There’s so much changing around us, whether it’s this new pandemic environment or the emergence of new technologies, methodologies or data to help us drive deeper insights.”
“We’re moving forward with both our digital business transformation as well as the data strategy,” she concludes. “The pandemic is highlighting new and existing opportunities that we’re now accelerating.”
It’s this potential to drive business transformation that should be most exciting for C-Level data leaders in the present global climate.
As Dr Boone notes, these changes could prove to be early indications that the positions are transforming in much the same way as the Chief Information Officer role has in recent years. If so, we can expect the CDAOs of the future of hold far more strategic positions within their organizations.
“At one point, the CIO was just the most senior technology person within the organization,” he says. “But that didn’t necessarily mean you were the best executive.”
“Over the past couple of decades, it’s evolved into a role that would benefit more from having someone who understands the business and industry, and just happens to know technology,” he continues. “I think we’ll see the data and analytics world evolve into that, too.”