Interview with CDO Club Founder, David Mathison

Scaling AI Claire Carroll

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are taking the data world by storm, but their role is relatively new, and subsequently, there's not much established wisdom on how to be effective in this role.

We interviewed David Mathison, founder of the CDO Club, for Chief Data and Digital Officers, to talk about the challenges facing CDOs, and incorporated his expertise into this white paper. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

Claire Carroll: Tell me a little bit about founding the CDO club and why you did it?

David MathisonDavid Mathison: I started the CDO Club first, 2011 and that was on LinkedIn and then two years later we decided to create a community on the web and then I wanted a place for people to meet and empathize with each other so I created CDO Summit in 2013 here in New York at Reuters and then 2014, New York and London at the BBC, 2015 four events, 2016 eight events. We doubled every year, but now I'm actually scaling that back.

When I started this in 2011, there were only 25 chief data officers on Earth with that exact title.  And I noticed chief digital officer hires were doubling every year and chief data officers were growing too and nobody was covering it so, I've got this entrepreneurial gene, and when I see a hockey stick growth curve I’m just like, "Oh, I want to be involved."

In seven years it's grown to 1,000s, so we were kind of lucky that it really did a hockey stick after digital, but the difference between the roles is significant. Digital, chief digital officers are generally hired by incumbent organizations that are being disrupted by startups. It's everything from what happened at Sears and the people at all these other retail outlets. It's clear that they need help. If they don't, they're getting disrupted, they know it.

Now digital disruption is at every incumbent, even oil and gas and some just sort of state industries and some of the regulated like gas, financial services, so on. The difference is on the data side in the very beginning it was always in internet and tech companies. There were some in cable MSOs, etc., but the real big hires came in 2018 in the government sector, in municipal, in the regulated industries like financial services and pharma. And these CDOs aren’t doing any digital transformation. They are mostly dealing with data first, getting the data architecture set and metadata and taxonomies, data governance. All those things that set the groundwork and once they have the groundwork set, then they're deciding do we go with the data link.

CC: Yeah, I think some of the people we've been talking to so far have been describing sort of a disconnect between C level executives saying that they want to shift towards a more data-driven culture and environment, and take advantage of their data, but there's this big divide between actually getting to a widespread culture that's driven by data, and short term expectations where they wanna get increased revenue out of data. Do you have any insight on this divide between long term goals and short term expectations?

DM: Once you have the road map, and understood that it's like painting the bridge, by the time you're done you gotta paint it again, so you need really realistic deliverables, and to make sure that everyone has buy-in, then you can see success. So you know what the long term strategy is, but how do we get there piece by piece? We don't have to throw millions of dollars at it, let's just throw a couple hundred thousand, and over the course of the next month, show our internal team and the investors that we're actually ticking off all these checkboxes.

I would say when you think about digital transformation, or data-driven culture, to me there are four things:

  1. Does it get us more revenues?

  2. Does it save us money and cut costs?

  3. Does it improve internal communications? Or not just internal, but with your vendors?

  4. Does it improve customer service?

CC: What’s the top challenge you’ve found in data transformation?

DM: We've polled our base so many times, we've asked this question at every one of our events globally: what's harder, technological change, or culture change? And the biggest challenge on both digital and data is inevitably culture change. Everybody in the organization has to be aligned with clear deliverables, from the job description of the CEO all the way down to the mission of the company. The ones that have done the transformations most successfully have done it that leader

Be a Data Leader

If you want to learn more from David Mathison and get key insights from Caroline Carruthers, co-author of The Chief Data Officer's Playbook and Data Driven Business Transformation, download our guidebook on Chief Data Officers and the Data Revolution. We surveyed more than 50 worldwide CDOs to find out the top data challenges facing data leaders.

learn from more than 50 cross-industry cdos

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