8 CDOs Share Key Insights on How to Build a Successful Data-Driven Organization

Author: Wavicle Data Solutions


Over the last several months, Wavicle’s data and analytics experts have had the opportunity to speak with chief data officers from eight companies in the financial services, hospitality, high-tech, and education industries. We asked them about their careers, top priorities, biggest accomplishments, and advice for others in the data and analytics field.


While each of these accomplished CDOs has their own story to tell (see below), they overwhelmingly agree that one thing is key to building a successful data-driven organization: business first! 


IBM Chief Data Officer Seth Dobrin, Ph.D., said it well: “If you try executing a data strategy without a business strategy, it’s going to be years to show any value. No one has patience for that. Identify use cases and build the strategy around those outcomes.”


Their priorities are spread across a variety of projects, including data monetization, governance, cloud implementation, artificial intelligence, and regulatory compliance, almost all of which are driven by a business priority to focus on customers. Many are prioritizing the modernization of data platforms as a foundation for these initiatives.


Below are highlights from each conversation, along with links to view the full interviews.


To have a data-driven culture, invest in data strategy


Meenakshi Thanikachalam
Head of Data Architecture, Ally Financial


We are currently focused on designing and building a world-class data platform focused on scalability, reliability, performance, efficiency, and operational excellence. We are aiming to use centralized data and democratized data analytics and simplify all our data ecosystems in support of goals to monetize data and provide meaningful insights to our business. To have consistency across the organization, it’s important to have a data strategy that governs data, defines policies around security issues, ensures data is available and empowers users to make use of the data.


Watch full interview


Understand the business problem a tool or data source is going to solve


Moez Hassan
VP and Chief Data Officer, Royal Caribbean


One role of the CDO is identifying products that make sense for an organization and aligning teams around those products. When it comes to staying technically current, it’s important to experiment with tools and products to understand the value they can bring to an organization.  Oftentimes people spend too much time evaluating tools because they are cutting edge, but they need to understand what business problem they are trying to solve.


Watch full interview


Look for “anchor” business initiatives when prioritizing projects


Sravan Kasarla
Chief Data Officer, Thrivent


When determining which programs to support and how to deploy them within the business, I look for anchor business initiatives, which are of high value and that will help the business grow or make operations better. For one past employer, it was anchored to customer experience transformation. For another, it was about risk. At Thrivent, it’s about transforming – becoming digital-first and driving the best knowledge about our clients and prospective clients to offer what is relevant.


Watch full interview


Data monetization requires a solid data foundation


Marla Dans
Head of Data Governance, TradeWeb


Data monetization is a key role for CDOs today. This can include optimizing internal processes to save costs, or it can be about generating revenue by adding information to products and services to add value to the revenue stream. In either case, data monetization requires a solid foundation of clean, usable, accessible data that could come from a variety of sources, including structured databases, unstructured document data, social listening, IoT sensors, etc. Data governance is a big part of managing all this data.


Watch the full interview


Cloud technology and AI accelerate digital transformation


Seth Dobrin, PhD


Digital transformation is being accelerated by three core foundational elements that weren’t available until relatively recently. The first is the hybrid cloud. If you look at companies that have been successful at digital transformation, they’re not on one public cloud, they’re on multiple public clouds, each one offering a specific value. Second, is the ability to implement trusted artificial intelligence at scale. For digital transformation, we have to look not only at how you automate your AI but also at how you use it to at least partly automate processes. And finally, natural language processing offers businesses opportunities to understand their business and extract meaningful tidbits.


Watch full interview


Enterprise data management can reduce the risk of mishandling data


Thomas Dunlap
CDO and Managing Director, London Stock Exchange Group


Among the most important responsibilities of a CDO is ensuring a strong system of data governance, compliance, and control. The stakes are higher than ever with enterprise data, regardless of what industry you’re in. The opportunities are high, but the risk of mishandling client data or market data is immense. Effective enterprise data management can be a competitive advantage and a risk mitigant at the same time. As such, we work very closely with our risk, compliance, and legal teams to review our data governance and quality programs regularly.


Watch full interview


Developing a next-generation data platform


Molly Schmied
Chief Analytics Officer, The Office of Advancement at The Ohio State University


As the fundraising industry matures, we are looking at the next evolution of our data and technology and the infrastructure that is needed to support our goals. We are focused on shifting from the use of POS data within a warehouse environment to incorporating behavioral and digital analytics. This means we are looking at more cloud-sourced technology, data cataloging, external data sources, and natural language processing to help us segment and engage with our audiences more productively.


Watch full interview


Prioritizing and managing data in a conglomerate


Ivàn Herrero Bartolomé
Chief Data Officer, Grupo Intercorp


Grupo is a conglomerate with 30 companies in various industries. We have to think of data strategy from a corporate level as well as for individual companies. I meet with every CEO and try to understand their needs. I try to focus on companies that are more technically advanced and pick three or four that we could do something of value for them within the first several months. For example, for one, we created a single view of their customers so we can start building a framework of data governance that we can use in other companies. We prove value and showcase results, and that brings traction and more interest from other CEOs.


Watch full interview


Join us and CDO Magazine at the CDO and Data Leaders’ Global Summit


These interviews were hosted by CDO Magazine in association with the International MIT Chief Data Officer and Information Quality Symposium and International Society of Chief Data Officers.


We look forward to joining CDO Magazine and some of the CDOs mentioned below again at the CDO and Data Leaders’ Global Summit on May 5.