The CDO goes lean and project focused

Published on the 08/08/2019 | Written by Heather Wright


Evolution of chief data officer

From accessing data to living and breathing data…

Chief data officers can avoid failure by dumping project and program-centric models and moving instead to a product-centric mindset and adopting rapid innovation and iteration.

That’s the view of the Gartner Research Board, which says the chief data officer role needs to pivot to focus more on products and managing profit and loss, instead of just being responsible for driving data and analytics projects and programs.

The changing role ties in with organisational changes Gartner has forecast, with companies moving to a product focus – something it believes will be embraced by 72 percent of organisations this year.

“Not all CDOs will be able to make the transition from a project or programs mindset to a product mentality.”

In practical terms, that means companies are moving from the more traditional technology investment model, where investment has been structured as a pool of ongoing ‘run the business’ costs and a separate portfolio of discrete capital projects that have a clearly defined beginning and end, to funding around enduring product lines. Development resources and ongoing management support is also being aligned around product lines, Gartner says.

For the CDO, a move to more rapid innovation and iterations for delivering data products – effectively the lean and agile development models – and a bigger role to play in leading how companies are using data to innovate and reinvent their business model.

“The change to a product-centric organisation must focus on business areas where there is room to innovate, such as supporting a new business model,” says Mario Faria, VP and program director at the Gartner Research Board.

“Product-centric approaches make it easier to rapidly innovate and iterate because they focus on user experience, evolving requirements and the strategic differentiation for what you are delivering,” says Faria.

Bill Swanton, Gartner distinguished research vice president, says the move to product-centric models isn’t a random development.

“It goes hand in hand with the adoption of agile development methodologies and DevOps,” Swanton says.

“Business leaders are generally unhappy with the speed at which they get application improvements and how they work. Given that no IT organisation gets anywhere near enough funding to do everything everyone wants when they want it, product-centric approaches allow faster delivery of the most important capabilities needed.

“They also force the business to prioritise the work, and to reprioritise it as requirements are better understood or the market changes.”

Meanwhile, back on the CDO front, Faria says CDOs have been through three distinct iterations:

CDO 1 was focused exclusively on data management

CDO 2.0 started to embrace analytics

CDO 3.0 led and participated quite heavily in digital transformation.

“This fourth version of the CDO is focused on products and on managing profit and loss instead of just being responsible for driving data and analytics projects and programs,” Faria says.

But, he says, that’s going to require change for CDOs and companies, with new skill sets, roles, investment models and the right culture required.

The Gartner Research Board says there are three key steps to becoming a product-centric CDO.

Think platform first
Faria says CDOs need to follow the lead of companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple and think about the data first and the use cases later.

These companies have built successful platforms that allow data capture and analytics usage, with faster life cycles between releases, Faria says.

“Most D&A leaders believe D&A platforms play a meaningful role in their D&A future, though scale and scope differ by company, maturity and investment levels,” he says.

Change investment models
Serving a single area or team on an individual basis isn’t a scalable model in today’s digital world.

As such, Gartner says CDOs need to work with company business leaders to adapt or change investment models, scaling the usage of the platform across the enterprise.

“In the product line management model, product lines are funded based on the business capabilities they support. Common or shared capabilities – such as infrastructure, technology, D&A – are funded based on the anticipated and aggregated needs of the product lines they support.”

Use a proven product management methodology
CDOs must help set the tone when it comes to the importance of product management in driving successful growth and scale, Gartner says. Role definition must be clear to all stakeholders and fundament to the role definition are its vision and objectives, goals and scope of metrics – specifically the metrics for transitioning toward a customer-centric approach for innovation.

“Not all CDOs will be able to make the transition from a project or programs mindset to a product mentality,” Faria says.

He says the CDOs who do succeed will be those who are able to deliver results using an operating model that hides details and is focused on the better, more scalable usage of data assets.

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