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Keys to a Successful CIO and CDO Partnership While in the Throes of Digital Transformation

The disciplines of data science and information technology have evolved over the last several years, creating changes in executive roles, adding new roles, and seeing responsibilities calibrated constantly. In our roles, as the Chief Information Officer (Nolfo) and the Data and Analytics Officer (Gupta) for the largest car rental company in the world, we were both energized by the organization’s interest in data and technology. It was becoming foundational to the company’s strategy as leadership looked to the future. We also sensed a great deal of tension as the organization shifted to a digital strategy and change management muddled ours and other roles across the executive team.

As we look forward to sustaining the growth of Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Data Officer (CDO) roles in the industry under immense COVID-19 pressure, we wanted to share our approach as practitioners for partnership between the CIO and CDO . Ours has been a successful partnership that quickly engaged and aligned our teams towards building a solid technology foundation. Our hope is that other CIOs and CDOs can find these insights helpful to drive their organization’s digital transformation despite challenging cost pressure imposed by COVID-19 pandemic.

Data is and always will be a basic need for any company. Leveraged properly and responsibly, it can increase profitability while improving customer interactions. From our experience, a CIO and CDO constantly need each other to build the vision and drive transformation for the organization’s data and technology strategy. Ensuring good quality data, that is available in real-time to all users, should be a charter for as much a CIO as it is for a CDO. Data accessibility and availability are the two prime factors of a successful design. When we started working together, we developed a cadence for what became a meaningful and high-performance delivery partnership.

To follow through, here are a few steps that we encourage all CIOs and CDOs to consider as they begin their journey of enabling a data-driven organization that is making meaningful decisions every day.

To start, we jointly established a few major goals for our partnership as shown below:

For the overall enterprise architecture and cloud provider decisions (#1 and #2 above), we formed a small working team consisting of talent from both the IT and Data organizations. Landing our initial cloud partnership and architecture was accelerated by the team attending 2-day briefings with the top cloud providers. The agenda for those briefings was carefully curated to ensure they addressed our key goals and laid out a clear path of their strategic intent for their products and services.

Ultimately, we all wanted to leverage as much commodity infrastructure and services as possible while providing scale and ease of use for the engineers, analysts, and scientists. We also didn’t just want a vendor, we wanted a partner that related to our culture and existing technology footprints. Out of these briefings the sensibilities of the team; which consisted of data scientists, technical architects, and data engineers, were quickly aligned to the enterprise architecture along with a partner. Building a quick proof of concept with a critical data stream and pushing it to volume was the next step the team tackled to expose any gaps or maturity issues with the products and services we chose.

We also established a biweekly review cadence between CIO/CDO leadership teams for the data stream build and engineering activities.

Here’s how we delineated responsibilities between the CIO and CDO functional teams:

Ensuring the delineation of responsibilities has been set from the beginning was critical for our organizational success. For governance and change management, we jointly gained support from the company’s CEO. As a company-wide sponsor and spokesperson for digital transformation, the CEO’s authority in top-down prioritization was vital to ensuring we rallied around the same focus across the organization. We also combined our business governance efforts into a single working structure with the executive layer driving priorities to sub-committees. The sub-committees were organized around the company’s business lines and allowed stakeholders to build their business case while the executive committee made the ultimate decision on where we would focus. This allowed both the IT and Data organizations to stay in lockstep without unintended consequences from distractions or other priorities being made outside our joint governance model.

While every organization is different, we believe many of these principles and philosophies are crucial when transforming in the digital era. In our experience as practitioners, the success of this new C-Suite role in the form of Chief Data Officer is massively dependent on its partnership with the CIO. Hopefully, CIOs and CDOs in other organizations will find these insights from our journey towards a data-driven culture helpful and impactful.

Anju Gupta, TNCR Contributing CIO
Anju Gupta, TNCR Contributing CIO
Anju Gupta is a technology executive with more than twenty years of industry experience in the field of analytics. She believes in powering enterprises with data-driven solutions. She has held Chief Data Officer, Digital Innovation Officer, and Technology Strategy Advisor roles in large corporations. A former Monsanto Science Fellow and YWCA Women leader for St Louis, she is a sought after speaker on topics of Digital Innovation and Artificial Intelligence. Anju has a Ph.D. in Quantitative genetics and Statistics from The Ohio State University and has ~17 granted and published patents. She also serves as an Executive Board member of AIWorld.
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