Enabling chief data officer success at IBM Insight at World of Watson 2016

Big Data Evangelist, IBM

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are increasingly driving initiatives—big data analytics, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things—that are transforming their companies’ business models and disrupting their industries. I participated in a recent CrowdChat in which subject matter experts (SMEs) and industry influencers discussed the challenges and opportunities facing CDOs and CIOs in the cognitive era. Here are some highlights from what I contributed.

What is the biggest trend on the horizon for CDOs and CIOs that will have an impact on their organizations?

The biggest trend for CIOs is the emergence of data science as a core competency that needs to be instilled throughout your organization, including knowledge workers. I would add that self-service tools are key enablers for democratization of data science out to lines of business, power analysts and citizen data scientists.

Ingesting real-time feeds of clickstream and other customer data into the core 360-degree view that drives continually updated predictive business apps—for example, next-best offer—is also important. The CIO role is more of a business function. The CDO role is becoming a data science–focused Insight Ops model function. The CTO role is the technology function on which CIO and CDO’s initiatives depend for platforms, storage and so on.

How would you explain the CDO and CIO roles to your family or friends?

I’d explain the CIO as the executive who drives an organization’s efforts to ensure that its information assets drive business success. The CIO is the executive responsible for ensuring that data- and analytics-driven outcomes span all functional areas of the business. The CIO drives data-driven productivity at all levels, especially knowledge workers and lines of business. The CDO manages the core data and analytics enablers of that effort. The CTO manages the platforms underpinning it all.

How important is an agile culture—one that supports fast failure—to the success of an organization?

If an organization is in a dynamic business environment where the rules for survival are changing by the moment, constant experimentation is table stakes for survival. Fast failure equals fast learning, which equals fast innovation. Every company, no matter how established and profitable, can quickly be deconstructed by a fast-changing competitive landscape. Fast experimentation—for example, constant data-driven A/B testing—needs to permeate everything. Adopt what works. Failing is a good thing when it’s minimal viable failure—in other words, when you’re taking manageable risks, incrementally, one after another, with no one bet-the-business risk.

What barriers do CDOs and CIOs face helping organizations shift from intuition to facts-based decisions?

CDOs and CIOs face the inertial force of established practices. Many people only crack open data, reports and so on when they either want to validate that the status quo’s humming along fine or when something screws up and needs to be rooted out. CDOs and CIOs also face the my-eyes-glaze-over barrier of organizations that have too much data, reports, dashboards and metrics. People throw their hands up in the air and wing it—too much noise.

What are some of the top strategic priorities for CDOs and CIOs in transforming their organizations?

One of the top strategic priorities in transforming their organizations is identifying the do-or-die initiatives for the business. How can you be a data-driven disruptor? Who or what’s likely to disrupt your business? If, for example, you’re in an industry being disrupted by cloud-based, machine learning–driven, on-demand business models such as in the automotive, entertainment or other industries—clearly you need to double-down your investment in such initiatives.

If you’re a CDO or CIO, you also need to cultivate a collaborative environment for developing innovative data and analytics-driven apps on open data and analytics. Bring subject domain specialists, data scientists and app developers together. Implement an Insight Ops methodology for cross-enterprise collaboration on developing disruptive apps. Along those lines, check out Tim Vincent and Bill O’Connell’s recent article on this this topic.

What new technologies will have the most significant impact on CDOs and CIOs in the next three-to-five years?

Open source and public data are chief among those strategic technologies bringing more such data into machine learning initiatives. For CDOs and CIOs, cognitive computing—neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), text analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and so on—is having a strategic impact. Use IBM Watson et al. as your organization’s core learning resource for finding patterns and delivering insights automatically from growing data corpora. Cognitive computing is coming front and center to all enterprise apps in the form of intelligent chatbots embedded in everything.

How much time do CIOs spend on operations versus transformation?

CIOs aren’t really an operational function. They need to spend all their time on transformation projects: those that transform the business culture, drive business model transformation and power competitive transformation and disruption. CDOs and CTOs are far more focused on operations than the CIO. Or they should be.

Experience more of the CDO role

The challenges facing CDOs will be a key theme at IBM Insight at World of Watson 2016, in Las Vegas, Nevada, 24–27 October 2016. Here are some relevant sessions that you can check out at the conference. Use the session preview tool to see further details:

Advanced analytics

  • 3417: Chief Data Officer Playbook: Creating a Game Plan to Sharpen your Digital Edge
  • 2302: Strategic to Operational – Analytics and Decision Optimization applications at the Ford Motor Company
  • 2976: Predicting Employee Retention for Data-Driven Human Resources with IBM SPSS at Coca-Cola
  • 3085: Creating a Digital Supply Chain at Monsanto
  • 3091: Production Planning and Scheduling Transformation at WestRock
  • 3634: Think you REALLY know your customers? With Microsegmentation, You Can
  • 3288: Drive Real Data into Real Actionable Insight with Machine Learning on Real-Time Big Data


  • 2692: Real-Time Cognitive Personalization Across USAA Member Interactions 

You’ll benefit from attending IBM Insight at World of Watson 2016, which represents the continuing evolution of the event formerly known as IBM Insight.

Register today for the event