Can your data champion convince your CEO?

Author: Dan DiFilippo, Global & US Data and Analytics Leader Dan_DiFilippo

As CEOs work to anticipate customer needs amid a torrent of data, they value analytics more than ever. According to PwC’s 19th CEO Survey, when CEOs were asked which connecting technologies deliver the greatest value on stakeholder engagement, they chose analytics more often than other connecting technologies including relationship management (CRM) systems, social listening, and online collaboration tools.

This growing reliance on analytics puts the chief data owner – whether it is the Chief Data Officer, the Chief Analytics Officer, or another person, in a powerful position. It’s also a difficult one. CEOs are willing to listen. But, the chief data owner needs to do more than talk. They need to show and tell data stories in a coherent and compelling way.

Sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics now empower chief data owners to extract insights that can alter business outcomes in extraordinary ways. But translating insight into action often requires buy-in from the CEO.  And while CEOs value analytics, they still rely on their gut. Convincing them to take action on insights that may be counter-intuitive is tough.

The new breed of data champion CEO's top technologies for customer engagement- Dan DiFilippo

Successful businesses are nurturing a new breed of data champion who is a master translator of data. This requires skills that go well beyond technology alone. Business acumen, superior communication skills, knowledge of tools and technologies, and the ability to gain the trust of the business are critical. In the analytics realm, we need a shift similar to the CIO’s transformation from an IT-centric function into an orchestrator of business services. CIOs needed to turn their attention away from plumbing and wires toward empowering the business with technology to drive competitive advantage. Today’s data champions need to focus less on columns and rows, and more on bringing complex insights to life for busy CEOs.

Many of our clients are gaining a foothold in nurturing new data champions.  Here are three characteristics that define the role:   

  • Focus on the problem, not the data: Today’s CEOs are under pressure to solve complex problems and exploit opportunities before their competitors do. They care little about data for data’s sake. Today’s data champions need to keep the business objective in mind or risk going down a data rabbit-hole. From the outset, data champions should ask “What do we want to achieve?” and “What data do we have to help us get there?”

 One of our commercial airline clients wanted to reduce non weather-related downtime. To achieve this, they looked at data from sensors embedded into engines to help predict equipment failure. But the data from the sensors didn’t enable the predictive capability that they expected. In light of their business objective, the airline augmented the sensor data with data from manual logs maintained by mechanics and pilots. The combination of unstructured data from the aircraft combined with the unstructured data from the logs enabled the airline to gain a better view into performance and reduce down-time.    

  • Take an outside-in view: Gone are the days when CEOs can rely solely on information within the walls of the enterprise. Data owners also need to look outside the business for new data sources and insights. We see digital innovation emerging from unconventional places like incubators, university labs, and open source projects. Don’t be afraid to forge new relationships with non-traditional players. This way, the CEO gets the big picture as well as a steady stream of innovative insights.
  • Ditch the spreadsheet: Data owners who walk into the CEO’s office with a 40-page spreadsheet probably won’t be back for a second meeting. New visualization tools, predictive analytics, and AI can bring data to life in ways unimaginable only a couple of years ago. Data champions need to understand new tools and be prepared to illustrate key insights in a compelling way. Be ready to stand by your data and insights, particularly if they go against the CEO’s gut. Too often, major insights are discounted before they are understood. I am still disappointed that 52 percent of CEOs say they have discounted data that they didn’t understand, according to PwC’s Global Data and Analytics Survey: Big Decisions™®. Even when delivered effectively, CEOs may still fall back on their gut, but they’ll do so from an informed position.

As data is now at the center of everything we do, CEOs will continue to place greater emphasis on analytics. I am struck by the fact that the other connecting technologies in our CEO Survey, like social media, CRM, and online collaboration tools are either data-driven or have data at their core. To take full advantage of all that data and analytics can offer requires a mindset shift and a new breed of data champion. I’d like to hear what steps you are taking to ensure your data champions are prepared for the journey ahead.  

 Dan DiFilippo is PwC's Global Data and Analytics Leader and the Senior Relationship Partner for a Fortune 40 client. Dan has responsibility for delivering PwC's data and analytics talent and capabilities, applications, products, and services for our clients across all of PwC businesses. Read more



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