Giving Data a Seat in the Boardroom

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Data is the new currency for companies. However for data to have the most impact, it needs to be properly represented among the C-Suite.

Data is everywhere. Every single interaction that a customer has with an organization, irrespective of the channel, is translated into nuggets of information, which, if used properly, can make the difference between the right and the wrong decision.

However, many companies are being afflicted by the "data-rich but insights-poor" problem. They have a lot of information but have not yet cracked the code that will allow them to translate their data deluge into the required actionable insights that will help their organizations succeed. "It's a quandary for organizations," notes Mark Ledbetter, SAP's global vice president for retail strategy. Burberry's John Douglas, experienced this first hand and during SAP's 2012 Sapphire Now said that the company's then CEO, Angela Ahrendts, had changed Douglas' title from Chief Information Officer to Chief Technology Officer. The reason, according to Douglas, was that he "never gave her information, just technology." But Ledbetter notes that the company has taken big strides forward to centralize its data and have a more holistic view of its customers.

With so much data in hand, organizations need a responsible figure that can bring data into the boardroom for the C-suite to understand and make decisions on. "Data is helping to bring the customer into the boardroom," notes Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond The Arc. This, notes Brian Koma, Verint's vice president for research and enterprise management, is a central role for the CIO and should remain one of his main concerns. "Some companies have been collecting data for so long that they don't know what they have," he notes. Therefore, assigning data-specific responsibilities will help the heads of different departments understand what data the company has and what they can do to leverage it for business improvements.

One option to give data the representation it deserves within the boardroom is to appoint a C-level data representative. Malcolm Cowley, CEO of Performance Horizon Group, notes that the past few years have seen an increase in roles of a Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer. "Companies and organizations in data-heavy industries such as financial services, retail, and travel are increasingly including a data representative in their C-suite," he notes. Advertising agency Oglivy & Mather is one of the companies to take this step, appointing Tom Cullen as Chief Data Officer in 2013. "In today's data-driven world, there should always be a data representative in the boardroom," Cowley says.

Matti Aksela, Comptel's vice president for analytics and technology, agrees. "Having a person on the board who knows what data is available will help the C-suite better leverage data for business decisions," he notes. As Jane Paolucci, vice president of global marketing communications at Sitecore, notes, "data and the data advocate need to be in every boardroom."

One problem that afflicts several organizations is departmental silos that not only lead to information shortage within the company, but also doubling of work, with different departments doing the same job. Beyond The Arc's Ramirez notes that a C-level role with responsibility for data will allow the organization to bridge these silos and have a more holistic view of the organization as a whole. "You need a person who has visibility into data [residing in different divisions] who can then ask the right questions and share the insights to inform future decisions," he notes.

However, organizations shouldn't make the mistake of looking at a C-level data role as an IT function. "This is a data scientist, an interrogator of the data," Ramirez says.

The data-focused organization

While a centralized data-responsible role is the recommendation of many experts, Larry Freed, Foresee's president and CEO, has a different perspective. He notes that hiring a Chief Data Officer is often a last-ditch effort by organizations which have not made data an integral part of their business. "They are trying to make up for this shortcoming," he says.

Instead, data should be a company wide passion with different divisions being data-savvy and collaborating towards a data-driven organization. "The key is to get all the departments using data and analytics," Freed notes. "Every line of business needs to own its own data and share it," he adds.

Irving Fain, CEO of CrowdTwist, agrees. "Every C-level executive should be responsible for representing data as it relates to his or her area of the business," he notes. Fain raises concern that a single data representative would lead to lost insights since the Chief Data Officer might not be fully aware of certain departmental intricacies. For example, as Fain notes, "nobody knows the marketing side of the business better than the CMO."

Similarly, Dan Darnell, vice president of product marketing at Baynote, believes that companies should go beyond a single representative of data. "Data should be the driving force behind the decision-making of every executive in the C-suite," he stresses. "The CEO should be asking everyone around the table to have their dashboards at the ready to explain their decision-making metrics."

Freed raises the concern that some organizations are appointing a Chief Data Officer as a Band-Aid because their different departments have not yet embraced the importance of leveraging and sharing data. "You don't solve problems by creating new positions but by changing the mindset of the organization," he says.

While Freed recommends instilling a data-driven responsibility within every department, he agrees that a C-level data representative would be a good first step for organizations that are still struggling to give data the representation that it deserves within the boardroom.

Presenting the right data

While it's imperative for the C-suite to be exposed to data, it's critical to have the right information, notes Larry Freed, Foresee's president and CEO. Organizations should make sure they're not presenting the boardroom with data just for the sake of having something to share.

However, this isn't a straightforward process. One of the main challenges for brands remains data silos, a problem that has been troubling organizations for several years. Ledbetter notes that apart from departmental silos, many organizations are also using multiple databases, meaning that information is spread around rather than centralized, making it very difficult for data to be properly represented in the boardroom since there are many people seeing different angles. "Data belongs in the boardroom and should already be there if the CIO is doing his job and delivering the information," he says.

Brian Koma, Verint's vice president for research and enterprise management, agrees, noting that one of the problems of having data properly represented within the boardroom lies with companies not even knowing what data they already have, let alone what they can do with it.