Business is being roiled by the ascendance of big data, and the CEO is often tasked with calming the resulting turbulence. Some CEOs have willingly taken the reins when it comes to big data initiatives. Others are resistant, believing that data operations should remain under the leadership of the chief information officer (CIO) or chief technical officer (CTO). This resistance is emblematic of a failure to recognize the strategic advantage a business can gain when the CEO leads big data initiatives.
Data analysis was once viewed as a task to be a done or a project to be processed. It almost always fell under the purview of the CIO, because data gathering, storage, and processing were enabled by technology and data architecture. But then a cultural shift happened: the rise of web commerce and social media made the customer king. Sales and marketing leaders wanted firsthand knowledge of what prospective customers were doing or saying on these websites. Data volume increased, appeared faster, and comprised both unstructured and structured data sets, but it became apparent how integral data analysis would become in transforming the competitive landscape.
Businesses began to recognize data for what it was: an extremely valuable asset that required promotion and protection. That viewpoint became cemented with the rise of new regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is designed to strengthen data protections and put more control in the hands of individuals.
Data governance is a complex challenge. The more big data becomes entwined with business value, the more it requires a high level of oversight and protection. Just as a CEO is responsible for other business assets, such as real property and intellectual and human capital, it makes sense that the oversight of data has shifted to the CEO as well.
The shift of data operations oversight from the CIO to the CEO is a welcome change for CIOs because they want the businesses they serve to be successful. A strong relationship between information technology and the CEO facilitates the ultimate buy-in and support, and the IT team knows that successful business outcomes can generate goodwill that will lead to future projects.
CEOs have come to understand that the path to better sales, products, and customer experiences goes through data. The digital world has democratized resources, and businesses have similar access to data, marketing channels, and communication outlets. Smarter, more consistent use of the data produced by, and driven through, those channels is one of the last remaining competitive levers that an organization can pull.
If CEOs truly want their businesses to become data-driven, they must drive the cultural change to support these initiatives. This equates to more than words or mission statements—the commitment must be shown in directed action. The enterprise has to move away from instinctual, gut-feel decisions, and the CEO has to trust in what the data reveals and act on those insights.
Every business unit now has a stake in data, and no department is untouched by the rise of big data. The CEO, with oversight of the rest of the C-suite, has to be the one to own the overall big data strategy and set the agenda for it.
The partnership between big data and the CEO is essential in creating a competitive big data strategy. Every business is now a data business, and CEOs that ignore this reality will, at best, fall behind their competitors and, at worst, become disrupted to the point of extinction.
Because the future is big data, the CEO must lead the way. Below are some concrete steps CEOs can take.
If you’re a CEO looking to compete in the data-driven world, read these tips.