When the data that guided you yesterday can’t guide you today, what’s the path forward?  The role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) has always been to drive business transformation by using data. In these unprecedented times, we are just as critical in that role. CDOs – especially in partnership with their Analytics, Technology and Digital peers – can help ensure effective business continuity by shifting our focus in three key ways:

1. Ask the right questions

When everything has been disrupted to the degree it has been this year, historical data is no longer relevant. We must move to a more real-time approach to gathering and reporting data. We still can and should be seeking data-driven answers, we just need to be quicker about it. And at the same time, however, we need to rethink the questions to ensure we are focused on the right things. With the pandemic, we shifted quickly to the safety and security of people and processes. At IBM, we tracked the virus in real time in partnership with Johns Hopkins and pivoted quickly to safety and digital delivery. We developed IBM Watson Works to support workforce health and readiness which is expected to incorporate, in the near future, Contact Tracing capabilities.

Then when civil unrest arose, we again needed new ways of thinking about data, analytics, and the application of AI. IBM’s leadership in discontinuing facial recognition software was a shining example of this.

2020 has taught us that we need to be better leaders of thinking carefully.

2. Reach out

We’re all in this together: businesses, employees, and clients. When no “one” has the answers, we need the power of “all” more than ever. The unprecedented disruption of 2020 has given business leaders permission to think more disruptively ourselves and to reinvent how we do business. This includes collaboration even among competitors in a way that doesn’t happen ordinarily. I have seen several consortiums forming in order to look at the greater good. For example, IBM is in a consortium with Microsoft, Google, and Amazon to pool and share data and to find solutions. This highlights that for certain societal considerations, we can and should come together. I hope it continues, especially in the healthcare arena.

Connection and transparency are new hallmarks of resiliency.   Continuing to build this type of sharing community with our peers, I believe, will be a part of the new normal that continues to evolve.

3. Make it personal

Finally, this year has taught us the importance of the people aspect of our craft. Data and analytics traditionally look at trends and statistics. 2020 taught us that it’s personal. In the wake of the social turmoil, I didn’t look to the numbers; I looked to my people. I had 1:1 meetings with each of my black employees. I invited them to present their personal stories to our larger CDO organization. It was quite powerful.

Going forward, I believe the people aspect of our craft will be more carefully considered and incorporated into our insights and actions. This has been the single greatest learning from this year: We have to take care of each other.

Saying that 2020 has been unprecedented is an understatement. It has also been humbling. We have all found that we don’t have as much mastery as we thought. 2020 has illuminated racial disparity and shown us how vulnerable we are. As we find our way forward, we will continue to learn and to use new data in new ways to make our way in this new normal.

Watch the replay of CDOs, Leading in Turbulent Times to hear more from Inderpal, as well as his peers: Linda Avery, CDO at Verizon, and Anthony Scriffignano, PhD, SVP, Chief Data Scientist at Dun & Bradstreet

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