Taking Analytics to the C-Level


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last three decades, companies have created a spate of new C-level positions, including chief marketing officer, chief technology officer and chief strategy officer. Now McKinsey & Company is promoting the idea of a chief data officer (CDO) and a chief analytics officer (CAO).

At first glance, this might seem a bit over the top. After all, individual departments and functions are perfectly capable of handling big data and analytics requirements on their own. But, as always, the devil is in the details. How does an enterprise create consistent governance standards? How does it connect the dots to unlock the full value of the data? How does it transform data into information and knowledge?

As Brad Brown, David Court and Paul Willmott point out in a recent McKinsey quarterly article, "Crafting and implementing a big data and advanced-analytics strategy demands much more than serving up data to an external provider to mine for hidden trends. Rather, it's about effecting widespread change in the way a company does its day-to-day business."

Yet, without someone to lead this effort there's a risk of achieving mediocre returns. As the authors state, "There's no substitute for experienced hands who can apply institutional knowledge, navigate organizational hazards, make tough trade-offs, provide authority when decision [creates] conflict, and signal that the leadership is committed to a new analytics culture."

McKinsey has established six categories that it deems crucial to big data and advanced-analytics success: establishing new mindsets; defining a data-analytics strategy; determining what to build, purchase, borrow or rent; securing analytics expertise; mobilizing resources; building frontline capabilities; and putting leadership capacity where it's needed. Without high level accountability and oversight, initiatives are more likely to fizzle, the authors point out.

CIOs must zero in on this important trend—as well as the implications that it presents. While there's no single path to success in the rapidly evolving big data and analytics arena, there are a number of key factors that organizations must address, including how to build a cohesive enterprise strategy across departments, channels and repositories. Without key players focused on the task—such as a CDO and a CAO—too many things are likely to fly under the radar.

It's no small matter. As the McKinsey authors note, "At all companies, top teams, and probably board members as well, need a better understanding of the scale of what's needed to ensure data-analytics success."

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight.