The chief data officer as Mr Spock

The chief data officer as Mr Spock

How can CDOs achieve success in working with their established peers? They are the science officer

"Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." -- Mr Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982

The CEO of an enterprise is a lot like that most famous of Enterprise leaders, Capt. Kirk, commander of the starship Enterprise. Reporting to the CEO are other C-level executives in command of functional areas such as finance, sales and marketing, much as Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott Montgomery reported to Kirk.

So if an enterprise's top finance guy is like Bones ("Look, I'm a CFO, not a doctor!") and the sales honcho is like Scotty ("Captain, if I push the sales team any harder, it's gonna blow."), what can we make of that new resident of the C-suite, the chief data officer (CDO)? How can CDOs achieve success in working with their established peers? They are the science officer. They are Mr. Spock.

The science officer on a starship boldly going where no one had gone before was an indispensable aide to the captain, but also to the chief medical officer, the chief engineer and the communications officer. Science was essential knowledge for all of them. Similarly, in our earthbound enterprises, data has rapidly emerged as both a strategic asset and a critical success factor, making all the difference between achieving expectations and succumbing to competitors. Like Kirk, CEOs will always consult their Spocks for their analytical perspective before reaching a decision.

Other C-level executives might not be so ready to do that, but we have five suggestions for new CDOs to win the trust of their peers.

-- Identify a C-level executive with a problem that can be solved with data and who is also willing to be your first partner. Finding a peer with such a business need won't be difficult; getting the personal chemistry right is the tricky part. You'll have more of a chance of success if your partner in this first venture doesn't consider you a green-blooded hobgoblin.

-- Focus first on the equivalent of away missions. In other words, think short term and find a way to show an initial sizable success quickly, in no more than two to three months. Once you've racked up a few successes on a small scale, you can start to think about the need to invest millions and several months in building data infrastructure.

-- Put a long-term data and analytics strategy in place, while making cumulative knowledge growth and business success a sustainable habit for each of your C-level peers. After all, the starship Enterprise was on a five-year mission. In that spirit, a data and analytics strategy should be planned with a long-term view and should proceed even as you continue to deliver quick wins, while building toward bigger goals.

-- Get off the bridge. Kirk needed Spock, and your CEO needs you, but Spock was also a key figure in getting engineering, tactical, communications and science to work together. The CDO must similarly be a bridge builder across several areas of the company.

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-- It is logical to put the entire enterprise's fortunes ahead of those of your functional area. Make sure you and your team see yourselves as enabling the success of the other C-level executives. It is your mission to support them, for the good of the enterprise. To do otherwise would, in the long term, do harm to your functional area. And if you are successful, your peers will be eager to work with you, to the extent that they will be willing to contribute their own budget dollars to building your organization.

CDOs who follow these five recommendations will live long and prosper.

Anthony Palella is the vice president of data analytics at Angie's List. Mario Faria has worked as a CDO for over five years and is the leader of Chief Data Officer, Inc., a data and analytics consulting company.

Read more about management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.

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