I’ve been thinking a lot recently about three demand patterns that every Chief Data Officer must have the skills to balance in order to thrive. Taking a page from Gartner’s IT Leaders Toolkit, I call the first Core, the second Explore, and the third Adoption + Impact. In my eyes, these chief data officer responsibilities are vital to long-term success. The idea is simple, even if the execution requires concerted effort: building a strong data core and an agile data innovation environment that allows your teams to explore and create impact.

Core: foundational but vital

The Core demand pattern in data and analytics describes what’s required to create the foundation any CDO is responsible for delivering. This includes:

  • a solid, modern platform that generates scalable data people trust
  • centralized data, so the company can perform operational reporting and analytics
  • data governance, providing the same definition of key data elements
  • performance management, so everyone is aligned and communicating consistently on key measures    

Addressing core demand is not for the faint of heart. Timelines can stretch to multiple years, with constant investment required. And let’s face it: there’s nothing glamorous about data governance. Keep in mind that the purpose of core is about enabling effective dashboards and robust prediction, and that it’s not synonymous with historical operational reporting or rear-view mirror looks into the past.

If you’re a new CDO and your company hasn’t been investing in the technology and data necessary for core functionality such as basic analytics, dashboards, and self-service BI, expect to spend a good portion of your initial time addressing core demand. Just as in physical training, building your core can be tedious but it also stabilizes and supports healthy movement.

Explore: life on the bleeding edge

The second demand pattern is Explore. As you invest in building an agile and collaborative data environment, you can successfully support technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Any CDO knows that they will have a far easier time getting colleagues to come to a meeting about these topics than to attend one about data governance. For good reason, AI and ML are exciting technologies. They hold out seductive possibilities like automating drudgery in workflows and generating copy for regular reports. 

As attractive as Explore technologies are, however, a CDO can make a costly mistake by skipping some of the Core capabilities that set the table for success with Explore strategies. This is risky because there is a huge user base within most companies that needs the Core to be productive in their jobs. Without strong Core elements in place, you also can expect your ML and AI results to be underwhelming regardless of how powerful the algorithms are. Not to mention that you might expose sensitive information that gets you into hot water with regulators or damages your brand with customers.

On the other hand, if you have the chief data officer skills to paint a picture of why Core elements are essential to the success of Explore elements, you will raise your profile and improve (or even transform) company performance once these programs launch. With a strong Core, your AI or ML initiatives will roll forward with strong momentum. Conversely, with a weak Core your efforts may hit a performance wall that means returning to Core data environment elements you’ve rushed or ignored. 

Scaling from a firm foundation
To succeed, you’ve got to fund both Core and Explore demand patterns in the right proportion for your current needs. You can’t spend all your budget and cycles fixing and replacing legacy technology. People won’t wait forever, and you’re never going to get to perfect. You’ve also got to explore the bleeding edge at the same time.

So how do you allocate your resources? If you’ve come into a company with a lot of legacy technologies, consider an 80% Core/20% Explore ratio. As you solidify your data foundation, you may be able to move to a 50/50 ratio. 

Adoption + Impact: where core and explore meet

For me, the ultimate arbiter of success as a CDO is that the work you and your teams produce is adopted. This is the third demand pattern, Adoption + Impact. It’s not solely the chief data officer’s responsibility to drive adoption and measure impact, but it is essential – and it’s far easier to do when you’ve built a strong Core. The last thing you want to be known for in your company is that awesome data warehouse and reporting engine, especially if nobody makes a decision or changes their behavior based on it. 

Adoption + Impact is like the flywheel of the CDO. And it’s here, actually, that fostering data literacy across your organization is so critical to success. With meaningful engagement and commitment to data and analytics from across the organization, a data leader can help everyone to realize enormous value.