Nov 12, 2021
The Evolving Role of the Chief Data and Analytics Officer

Over the last 10 years, the role of the chief data and analytics officer (CDO/CDAO) has transformed within organizations, moving from traditional, regulatory and compliance reporting, to empowering data-driven decision making, innovation and monetization throughout an enterprise.

So says a panel of data and analytics leaders who gathered (virtually) last week at CDO Magazine’s Women Data Leaders’ Global Summit, where attendees heard from Evernorth, a Cigna company, Rock Central, Deloitte and PayPal about how shifts in business trends have given the CDO a seat at the table when it comes to impacting an organization’s bottom line. The panel was moderated by Savio Rodriguez, vice president of strategic clients at Trianz, and his colleague Laura Ferracane, who is vice president of global human capital for the company.

The role of data and analytics professionals has been increasingly oriented towards the business,” said Gina Papush (pictured on the left), global chief data and analytics officer at Evernorth, a Cigna company. “…These roles have become much more oriented towards creating value [for the business].”

Sometimes, Papush said, the work that data and analytics professionals do for a business can be measured in dollars and cents, and in other instances it’s about building core capabilities that make the business more efficient, intelligent and successful. “The role has really elevated to a business contributor and business enabler,” she said, adding that in the past few years CDO/CDAOs have also become “business drivers …and … [are] sometimes driving entirely different business models.”

Data and Analytics Leaders are the Trusted Advisors to the Business

Beth Hiatt (right), head of global data governance at PayPal, echoed Papush’s thoughts on the evolving role of the chief data/analytics officer. According to Hiatt, one of the key characteristics of a data leader is being able to bring the business, technology, and many other different facets of the organization together in order to achieve business outcomes.

“Every organization is organized differently,” Hiatt said. “In the role of a data leader, whether you are aligned to technology, or you are aligned to operations, the business, or privacy … our role is to really engage [across the] business … and create that value. It can be hard… depending on where you sit organizationally, because it means crossing boundaries.” That means that today’s CDO/CDAOs need to be natural collaborators, bringing together different lines of business to achieve organizational goals and breaking down company siloes.

Adita Karkera, CDO Executive Advisor at Deloitte Consulting  LLP, said that CDOs are trusted advisors and partners to the C-suite, acting almost as the “glue” that helps ensure that each line of business is truly taking a data-driven approach to decision-making.

Building a Data-Driven Company Culture

According to Karkera (left), data is front and center in digital transformation taking place across all industries today. The opportunities are endless, but there are challenges. Namely, she said, one of the biggest challenges is culture-related.

“Just collecting data is not good enough,” Karkera said. “Data has to be leveraged.” Indeed, data has to be applied to actually get value out of it. Turning data into actionable insight, she added, is a culture question: “... Does your workforce have that culture of data-first or are they driven by instinct and intuition? Does your workforce have skills and mindset to access, analyze, comprehend and leverage its data to improve its decision-making?” 

In order to drive this type of cultural change, PayPal’s Hiatt said that CDO/CDAOs must also take on the role of a “change agent” within their organization. It’s going to take listening, understanding where the challenges are from a business perspective, and alignment across the business in order to foster a data-driven culture. And CDO/CDAOs must “engage, empower and influence [people] across the organization,” Hiatt said.

Indeed, the CDO/CDAO has to help other executives shift their mindset around how they make decisions, said Evernorth's Papush, echoing Hiatt’s point on the CDO/CDAO as a change agent within the organization. “We are all humans and it is human nature to apply gut and intuition [to decision-making],” Papush said. “And there is value in business intuition because we all learn from business experience.” However, what the CDO/CDAO brings to the table is the ability to apply data to a hypothesis (a gut intuition) and prove or disprove it, she explained.

“Our opportunity is to come to the table with facts and actionable intelligence that augments that business intuition and jointly arriving at different business decisions because of the information we bring to bear,” Papush said. “[It] is the most effective way to solve for the culture change and to help the business progress and see how they can make decisions differently.”

Deloitte’s Karkera added that organizations also need to acknowledge that the soft skills are just as important as the hard skills, especially as we move towards self-service. analytics

Deval Motka (right) vice president of Rocket Data at Rock Central, says that building a data-driven culture doesn’t happen overnight – “It takes baby steps,” she said, adding that as a former software engineer she had to “unlearn” perfectionism and immediate results. Additionally, data democratization, she added, and actually putting data into the hands of the workforce – and not just the data analysts – is going to be key as well. The onus will be on the CDO/CDAO, Motka added, to drive data literacy across the enterprise.


Measuring the CDO/CDAOs Success

The panelists all agreed that measuring the success of the data and analytics function within an organization can be difficult to quantify. But, PayPal’s Hiatt said, CDO/CDAOs do need to develop a set of KPIs that are focused on the “defensive posture.” Data control, quality, governance, the stewardship – all of that needs to be measured, she said.

CDO/CDAOs will need a totally separate set of KPIs, Hiatt added, that focus on the business impact of the data and analytics function, and looks at how the CDO/CDAO and his or her team are driving revenue, cost savings, efficiencies, and more. This needs to happen in partnership with business leaders.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring success, Evernorth's Papush noted. It is really going to depend on your business and its goals, which can vary across companies and industries. “Those business contribution metrics are critical, and they have to be tailored to the nature of the business,” she said.