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March 5, 2024

CDO Magazine Interview with Dr. Diane E. Schmidt

In an interview feature for CDO magazine, Nazar Labunets, Product Marketing Manager at Ataccama, sat down with Dr. Diane E. Schmidt, Chief Data Officer at the Government Accountability Office of the United States. Diane is a hands-on data governance professional with over 30 years of experience. She also holds the Practitioner of the Year award for her data governance program at LSEG.

The discussion encapsulates Diane's wealth of experience and expertise, comprehensively exploring the challenges and triumphs inherent in the CDO position.

You'll find interesting facts about the significance of cultural change, strategies for demonstrating the value of data, the varied contexts in which CDOs operate, the challenges they encounter, and the pivotal role of effective communication in navigating these complexities.

Throughout the dialogue, Diane emphasizes the pivotal role of relationships and cultural transformation in achieving success as a Chief Data Officer, underscoring the importance of aligning data strategy with organizational adoption for sustained impact.

Read on and watch the videos to learn more!

Cultural change, data strategy, and the CDO position as an investment

In the first part of the interview, Nazar and Diane discussed the main role of a Chief Data Officer, advice on data strategy, demonstrating value, and confusion around the role of CDOs.

Key takeaways:

  • The most important job of any CDO is being a cultural change agent, shifting organizational behavior to appreciate data and data management. You can build an efficient and effective data ecosystem, but if people don't use it, the effort is futile.
  • Data strategies must articulate the voice of the organization. Capture its core values, goals, and mission in your strategy, not just the business or data needs.
  • Data strategies must include the what (what will happen), the how (how it will happen), and the why: what is the purpose, the issues you're trying to solve, and the value it will bring.
  • The CDO role is an investment. While you might feel pressure to show value quickly, a good data initiative takes time, effort, and commitment.
  • The key leadership characteristics for any CDO are creativity, resilience, persistence, and effective communication with stakeholders.
  • There's no one job description for CDOs. It depends on the organization's drivers, scope, expectations, and data maturity. Understanding these and how they're unique to your company can help avoid confusion about roles and responsibilities.

CDOs in different contexts, challenges, and communication

Nazar and Diane then went on to discuss how the CDO role can look different depending on the organization, how to deal with some common CDO challenges, and the importance of communication.

Key takeaways:

  • CDOs must understand their role and assess the landscape of an organization before starting their job. Executing without funding, resources, or a business plan regarding data can be an uphill battle you must prepare for.
  • You can break through bureaucracy by finding the person who can say "yes." Red tape is set up for people to say "no" to almost anything. Get what you need by finding active decision-makers at your company and appealing to their goals/priorities.
  • Whenever you see a gap in the framework or communication channels, create an internal data marketing strategy. This can help you manage yourself, your manager, and the company and get your message across to executives and stakeholders.
  • Communicate in a multi-channel format: Find a seat on the executive committee docket, create internal articles and other content, use internal channels like Slack or MS Teams, and promote externally, e.g., via Linkedin posts.
  • CDOs are all about people. Sure, data is important, but most positives come from behavioral changes at the organizational level.

Building a successful data governance program, changes over time, tooling, and new innovations

In the final part of the interview, Nazar dug into data governance. Diane discussed tips for building a successful initiative and how she won the Practitioner of the Year award for her data governance program. Then, they discussed how data governance has changed over time, the best tooling for data governance initiatives, and new and exciting innovations in the CDO field.

Key takeaways:

  • There are a lot of frameworks out there for data governance, but none are universal. Pick and choose the best parts of each that apply to your organization's structure, needs, and capabilities.
  • Building a data governance program is a journey, and you must bring people along. Build support by showing your work and the iterative steps you took to get there.
  • While data governance has changed a lot in recent years, its core values remain the same: people, process, technology, policy, framework, and culture.
  • The tools you choose need to be accelerators. Not expensive, non-implementable objects that get shelved due to adoption barriers and low appetites.
  • Create an innovation lab at your company that promotes a culture of continuous improvement. This way, you can never be left behind.

Key Takeaway: Building strong relationships and culture

One theme rang true throughout most of Diane's answers: changing behavior is crucial to success. As you build up your data strategy, remember it will only get far with the ready adoption of the rest of the organization. Focus on the relationships you build along the way and use them to garner the support and resources you need to make your strategy work.

Want to learn more about becoming a successful CDO? Visit the CDO Success Hub to learn about different opportunities and technologies for prospering in your position.

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