No one knows who gets to “own” data, and that’s a problem

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I will keep this one pretty short because it’s a relatively obvious point and we don’t need to belabor it. Here goes.

Step 1: Data is important and should be a competitive advantage for companies.

Step 2: Increasingly, companies have realized that.

Step 3: They’ve tried to “pivot” their business models and shift their hiring processes to be in line with this.

Step 4: Some are seeing results, but most are just gathering data and seemingly unsure what to do with it.


What happens between Step 2 and Step 4? Where is the bottleneck here?

It’s actually pretty simple.

Most of work is about control.

It’s very important to people — and especially men — to know who “owns” something, be that an employee, a project, a P&L statement, whatever.

You will always hear questions about who “owns” what in any given company.

The reason data hasn’t truly revolutionized more companies is because no one knows who owns it.

Don’t believe me?

This is from research based on executives at 57 larger corporations:

Thirty-nine percent say their CDO has primary responsibility for data strategy and results, but 37% assign that responsibility to other C-level executives, and 24% say there is no single point of accountability for it. In terms of backgrounds, 34% of respondents believe the CDO should be a change agent from outside the company, while 32% believe the person should be a company veteran from inside the firm.

Here, let me phrase this another way:

Absolutely no one has any clue who is driving the bus.

Oh, would you like another quote?

Sure, here you go. From the same research:

Another important and continuing issue is the slow speed with which these established firms make the shift to a data-driven culture. Virtually all respondents (99%) say their firms are trying to move in that direction, but only about one-third have succeeded at this objective. This gap appears every year in the surveys, and the level of success hasn’t improved much over time.

Now let’s combine the first quote and the second.

No one knows who owns data strategy and process, and somehow, in six years of this research, there’s been no change on establishing “data-driven cultures.”

See a correlation there?

This isn’t a new problem

From 2015: “Executives value data, but have no idea what to do with it.”

What’s really going on here?

Easiest explainer: a lot of guys who run companies now came up in a much different era. They are comfortable with direct mail and “power branding” plays. All this data stuff? They have no clue. Their best answer is probably “hire me someone from a good school, pay him a lot, and let him figure it out.” (I’ve heard executives say similar.)

But they know data could be important, so they want to make sure it resides in a place close to them … but they don’t know if that’s CSO, CIO, CTO, CDO, or whatever. It’s all alphabet soup and the decision-making gets nuked into nothing.

Related: what exactly does a CSO do all day, anyway?

What’s the path through?

Simplest terms:

  • What decisions are you trying to make?

It’s not rocket science and can unfold in pretty basic ways, but until there’s role clarity around “Dan owns the data strategy” or “Elizabeth is our go-to on data,” absolutely nothing will really happen except a bunch of emails and meetings that go nowhere.

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