Chief Data Officers: Don’t ignore complexity. Embrace it.

As a data leader, you’re no stranger to the many challenges that CDOs face. From data quality issues that can result in regulatory risks to keeping a lid on cloud spend, this role demands a multifaceted approach to deliver tangible value and return on investment to your organization.

But how can you meet such diverse objectives effectively? How should you allocate your resources — time, budget, and effort — to maximize your impact? What areas should you prioritize to not only survive but thrive in your role, especially given the often short average tenure of CDOs?

The answers to these questions are far from one-size-fits-all. Your environment plays a pivotal role in shaping your priorities and strategies. Consider the impact of several crucial factors:

Technology: The tools and systems you use to collect, store, process, and analyze data.

Legacy: Existing data assets and historical data practices within your organization, which have an impact on data quality, accessibility, and compliance.

Regulation: Navigating relevant regulations, implementing necessary controls, and ensuring data privacy practices to mitigate legal risks.

Corporate Structure: How your organization’s structure influences data governance and ownership.

Competency: The skills and expertise of your workforce in handling and deriving insights from data.

Culture: Attitudes, beliefs, and practices related to data within your organization.

Every CDO operates within a unique environment, and the larger and more complex your organization and industry, the more these factors come into play. While this framework helps you understand your environment, it doesn’t provide the specific guidance needed to make optimal decisions that deliver value.

The CDO Survival Guide, which we published recently, delves deep into the challenges that CDOs like you face. It provides practical guidance on prioritizing capabilities essential for strategic success while addressing tactical needs.

In larger, complex environments where several of the factors listed above are at play, delivering sustainable and scalable value becomes even more critical. Organizations like these typically have extensive data footprints, sprawling commercial ecosystems, and significant data investments that need to demonstrate a return on investment.

The context is complex

As an experienced CDO, you’ll already understand the nuances within each of the six areas above. But above all, it is complexity that creates some of the biggest challenges for CDOs. Let’s take a look at each of the broad areas where you’ll encounter complexity:

Data: Quality, timeliness, format, structure, location, update frequency, governance, etc.

Users: Data scientists, analysts, engineers, domain experts, business leaders, data product managers, legal, compliance, etc.

Technology: Databases, source systems, file storage, cloud storage, data lakes, data warehouses, etc.

Boundaries: Teams, departments, legal entities, jurisdictions, partners, customers, suppliers, etc.

Traditionally, efforts to address this complexity have been heavily focused on technology. However, it’s become increasingly clear that no single technology can cater to the diversity of data and users while seamlessly crossing organizational boundaries. Attempts to simplify have sometimes compounded the issue, such as the push towards data centralization, which is not only creates dependencies on certain technologies and providers, but can lead to spiraling costs.

Recent approaches like federated and decentralized data architectures, such as data fabric and data mesh, have gained traction for addressing complexity rather than eliminating it. But they too come with challenges, such as a lack of concrete recommendations and the evolving nature of the required technology.

At Harbr, we understand the intricacies of both centralized and decentralized data architectures. With extensive experience in supporting hybrid data ecosystems across some of the world’s largest data-driven organizations, we are well-equipped to offer insights and solutions to your unique challenges.

To understand more about handling this complexity and diversity of data, users, technology, and organizational boundaries, take a look at our CDO Survival Guide. It goes into detail about practical solutions that will help you to navigate these complexities effectively and deliver value to your organization. You’ll also find helpful resources, such as:

  • Do’s and Don’ts for developing and deploying your data strategy
  • Advice on managing data across silos, business units, and partners
  • Perspective on how to think about the diverse needs of the users you serve

In the world of data leadership, knowledge is power. Let us help you stay ahead of the curve.

For additional perspectives on the life of the modern CDO, check Tech Exec magazine’s recent coverage of BDO’s Denholm Hesse and Harbr’s Anthony Cosgrove.