Two CIOs, One Perspective on Data Strategy

Updated February 5, 2020

Data StrategyInformatica recently published a Data Strategy Playbook to help CIOs create a comprehensive and successful data strategy that connects all the data across their enterprise. I had the chance to sit down with one of the contributors, Monsanto CIO Jim Swanson, to talk about what does and doesn’t work in building an effective data strategy. We both agreed on several key points:

1. No one invests in a data strategy. They invest in an outcome they care about. For example, Chicago Cubs CIO Andrew McIntyre didn’t ask the team’s owners to invest in a holistic strategy to find, clean, secure, and democratize data from across the company. He asked them to invest in improving the fan experience.

2. Working across organizational boundaries is no longer optional—it’s a must. Cross-functional processes aren’t just more important than they used to be; they’re foundational to a successful data strategy. The CIO has an end-to-end view of the processes and systems that enable the enterprise, so part of the CIO’s mission must be to optimize those processes. The best way we’ve found to do this is by bringing together functions with overlapping goals and data needs and facilitating a beneficial partnership.

3. Data transparency and data democratization are game-changers. Everyone needs to be looking at the same information to change the dialog. Data is the common denominator that drives cross-functional discussions, so data must be trusted and secure, with the proper data governance in place to ensure common definitions of terms. For example, when someone says “territory,” it has to mean the same thing to Marketing, Finance, and Legal that it does to Sales.

4. Everyone must become a data steward/advocate. As a CIO, you know some of the functions in your enterprise are basing their decisions on bad or incomplete data. You have to make your employees understand that the data in their applications can, and will, be used by others and therefore has to be available and reliable. Jim looks for advocates in the company who want to use data to transform their part of the business. Then he shows them where other parts of the business could use that data, too—for example, applying data from the supply chain organization to R&D. Once people see how valuable their data can be, they get smarter about it. They become data stewards. They become partners in the data curation process. And as momentum builds, others want to get on board.

5. Start small but think big. CIOs must deliver quick wins on enterprise goals—not just to drive adoption and bring the business along with you, but to learn quickly from short, impactful release cycles so you can make wise decisions about what to do next. Consider what data your enterprise needs to drive revenue and be disruptive; start with the end in mind and people will be much more eager to consume your big data strategy.

Throughout our discussion, Jim and I agree on a lot of the basics of developing a data strategy—which means either both of us are right, or both of us are wrong. What do you think?