Want to find the perfect Chief Data Officer? Look for an empathetic big brain to harness the power of big data for your business. Here’s why.

Being a Chief Data Officer (CDO) is not for the faint of heart. With the rise of big data, a sea of potential social information, and a new generation of analytics tools, there is growing interest in the role.

Big data and data science matter because they enable companies to operate and strategize more intelligently. It is all about adding substantial enterprise value by learning from data. Devoting executive muscle in the C-suite empowers companies to address changing markets and buyer behaviors.

What exactly do companies need, though, to ensure big data initiatives drive results? The best candidates for CDO may well be big-brained data scientists — but they’ll also need plenty of courage and imagination, as well as the muscle to get things done.

Ask colleagues to describe a data scientist, and they’ll sketch a picture of a left-brained “PhD out of Stanford, Harvard or MIT.” Your CDO will certainly need those left-brain analytic skills and reasoning abilities typically associated with mathematics, statistics and programming. Your CDO will also want to leverage big data to solve problems throughout the business in creative ways. So add those right-brain strengths of intuition, innovation and problem-solving to the profile.

Put More EQ in your Big Data

You might conclude that a version of the brilliant big-brained character of Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory would make the ideal CDO. Not true. Sheldon is highly analytic and a brilliant problem solver, but notably suffers from a hilarious inability to recognize sarcasm and other emotions.

Bringing analytics and innovation together successfully to understand, empathize with, and delight customers requires the CDO have a large measure of Emotional intelligence (EQ). This ability to read feelings and respond in an appropriate way is said to reside deep in both sides of the brain in the hippocampus and amygdala, the center of emotions.

Lest you think I’ve gone too touchy-feely with all this EQ stuff, let me reassure: as a Mathematics major and recovering Six Sigma greenbelt, I know reason is important. But reason and emotions aren’t necessarily opposites. Rather, they are two types of intelligence — and powerful results can come from their combination.

With high IQ and EQ, the ideal CDO will use information gathered from analyzing big data to “connect and succeed in a myriad of situations,” not the least of which focuses on perfecting the customer experience.

Connecting with Customers

The CDO needs to appreciate the importance of connecting the technology-based processes that operate our companies with the human element. Businesses have all invested in ERP and CRM solutions, the systems of record required to run companies successfully. Yet much of the really important information lies in unstructured data, often social.

The customer’s real context, desires and issues are often in this layer, and the CDO can focus on that to make the customer connection a little brighter. To do this, the CDO will need a “whole-brain” approach that lowers the barrier between useful information and action.

Research shows that businesses that use big data to connect with customers make more money. That’s an important outcome for a CDO. Often cited industry examples include consumer product and retail loyalty programs like Tesco and financial services customer acquisition programs. But using data can result in smarter business decisions and more revenue for all sorts of companies.

Auto makers are building betters cars this way. Ford leverages an internal team to analyze social media and other external data in order to figure out, for example, what customers are saying about their vehicles compared with other makes. To do this, Ford looks for data scientists

who can see the world through the eyes of both technologists and businesspeople, two groups that often have different concerns and goals in mind.”

In one case, the product development team was curious as to whether the Ford Escape sport-utility vehicle should have a standard or a power rear-door liftgate. So the team took to social media, where people were actually talking about it quite a bit, and an analysis revealed most in favor of the power liftgate. It’s now a feature.

Saving Costs, Saving Lives

The ideal CDO recognizes that leveraging big data is just plain good business, but can also rise to a higher cause.

Using big data to reduce “nonadherence” of prescription drugs can significantly impact cost and potentially save lives. An estimated $500 billion in wasted health care spending each year comes from selling or obtaining prescription drugs illegally or patients not taking them according to directions.

Express Scripts manages 1.4 billion prescriptions a year for 100 million Americans and 65,000 pharmacies. Analysis on its large dataset spots outliers in patient behavior that signal abuse or fraud. Their models take into account some 400 variables including classic demographic information, types and numbers of prescriptions someone is getting, and even whether people respond to their letters and phone calls. By analyzing refill patterns, they can identify patients for corrective action who potentially aren’t taking their medicine as prescribed.

At times, extraordinary outcomes become possible. Through the magic of big data analytics and sophisticated algorithmic kidney-matching software, one kidney donor triggered a six-way kidney swap thanks to Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC)’s strategic use of big data. According to CPMC,

The fact that this chain was started by an altruistic donor is significant in that six people who came to us with living donors with whom they are not compatible will now get living donor kidneys.”

Frankenstein CDO

CDO’s required skills are clear: analytical thinking, creative problem solving and empathy. Increasingly, the outcomes prove a high return on investment is possible, but to deliver maximum value, the C-suite needs to develop clear CDO responsibilities and vision. As McKinsey writes in Mobilizing your C-suite for big-data analytics:

Because the new horizons available to companies typically span a wide range of functions, including marketing, risk, and operations, the C-suite can evolve in a variety of ways…Daunting as it may seem to rethink top-management roles and responsibilities, failing to do so, given the cross-cutting nature of many data-related opportunities, could well mean jeopardizing top- or bottom-line growth and opening the door to new competitors.”

It is apparent that “without extra executive horsepower, stoking the momentum of data analytics will be difficult for many organizations.” But does this really mean that we need to add a CDO position? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The best path might indeed be adding a chief data office to the C-suite. Or we could take the path to build a Frankenstein monster CDO function from the parts of the relevant CxOs by enhancing all the mandates of the chief marketing, information technology, strategy and risk officers.

More aptly perhaps, and given the right person, we could instill the CDO responsibilities into one of the critical C-suite positions like the Chief Marketing Officer.

Whatever the path taken, we will need those big brains, but only the ones who can recognize sarcasm.

A version of this post first appeared in CMSWire.

Image source: Shutterstock_173563589



Each year, Gartner publishes a Supply Chain Top 25 list. As a student of the supply chain, I watch to see who made the list and what market advances they highlight for suppliers and retailers.  Over the years, I  have seen many signs of progress toward a responsive demand driven supply chain. Last week though I experienced it firsthand.

Here’s my personal supply chain story, that reveals some important best practices for retailers.



The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a present to dog lovers everywhere… and I am certainly one.  This year the show is different, and even better. For the first time, all dogs – purebred and mixed breeds – are competing in a new Masters Agility Championship.Tails are wagging around the world in appreciation. This has inspired me to write about another kind of Westminster tale, one that offers important lessons for those who pursue brand excellence.

Read More at CMSWire Best in Show!

12-11-2013 2-17-33 PM Happy 2014! Time for fabulous predictions.  Here’s one I predict  you won’t see from any other industry watcher…

Check out a longer version of this post with other awesome predictions at Industry Insights.


Dimensional disruption 

“By 2020, traditional supply chains will no longer exist. Instead all objects will be created at the point of use by 3D replicators.”  – Spacely Sprockets Research

George Jetson has a replicator, so does Jean Luc Picard. Now so can you. “Print Your Own 3-D Objects” describes Candy Fab. Resembling a  high-end industrial fabber, it prints by fusing a layer of sugar grains. The result: geometric confections including dodecahedra, Möbius strips and sugary helices. Okay, not yet for sale and admittedly not very practical. However, high performance additive manufacturing technologies, first developed in laboratories some 30 years ago, are now available for consumers and 3D printing offers “the realistic possibility that anyone, anywhere in the world can produce any object they need on demand.” For a thorough treatment of the subject I recommend  “3-D printing and the future of stuff.”

If you are looking for early signals to confirm that 3D printing has arrived as a force to be reckoned with, you need look no further than my new go-to scientific source, The Big Bang Theory, whose 3D episode was both incredibly funny and insightful. Having said that, it is clear that more traditional industry watchers are interested in 3D printing. In fact, it’s disruptive potential is highlighted by Gartner who predicts that a new digital industrial revolution has begun that threatens to reshape how physical goods are created with 3D printing at the heart of it. On the upside, 3D printing is a means to reduce costs through improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-run manufacturing. However, Gartner also warns that 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally by 2018. That prediction is one of 10 ‘Top Predictions for 2014’ made by Gartner.

I spend a good deal of my time these days with enterprise information management technologies that can improve the customer experience and at the same time optimize the supply chain, so I am particularly interested in how 3D printing might impact the retail value chain. In that regard, I definitely agree with Deloitte’s Alison Kenney Paul. In her 2014 “Outlook on Retail,” she points out that retailers will need to keep an eye on the rapid growth of 3D printing applications. Alison predicts:

“Printing customized and on-demand products in-store will revolutionize the customer experience and help retailers improve their inventory and supply chain management. At the same time, as personal 3D printers become affordable, retailers will need to deliver a unique store experience, since a small, but increasing, percentage of customers will be able to print products themselves at home.“

That’s just a leap of faith away from the prediction of a dissapearing supply chain, don’t you think?

ArtvsScienceThere is a long-standing debate as to how much of customer experience management is science and how much is art.

As you decide where you weigh in on the question, here are two [of my personal] customer experiences for your consideration. While one experience is a customer satisfaction triumph and a pleasure to share, the other tells a cautionary tale. They both illustrate the critically important role technology can play, blending science and art to create positive impressions and continuing customer loyalty.  Read more at CMSWire

Symphony_shutterstock_113959705Each year at this time, supply chain geeks (and I use this term with great regard and affection) eagerly await publication of the annual Top 25 list. I have been following this list since its inception in 2004 by AMR Research, now Gartner, and along the way have drawn some conclusions about the processes and technologies it takes to be the best in orchestrating the supply chain.

Here is my latest article for CMSWire with the key trends I see, as inspired by this year’s leaders, plus one emerging strategy I predict is the new “must have.” Let’s see if you agree.

The insurance industry is experiencing a major shift in market behavior. Whether this becomes a perfect storm for failure or a new growth opportunity will depend on the insurer’s ability to respond to the sea change. Check out my latest article in CMSWire where I look at the challenges insurers are facing, whether they are a duck, a gekko or an elephant 🙂