The 4 C’s: Defining an Owner for Data-Driven Initiatives

by Jim Cain

If you’re still reading this series you seem to have bought into my illustration of the problem with why data projects fail in most businesses. 

If no one owns data in the way I’ve described in previous posts (see a complete list at the end of this post) then any data initiative will get caught up in typical internal politics, lack of participation, minimal execution and ultimately fail.

Step 1 to ensuring this doesn’t happen is to define an owner for data-driven campaigns.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Ask any team inside the organization about the fix, and the answer will be immediate: Let our team own these programs!  As this approach is the path of least resistance, many companies have tried to go in this direction, resulting in  very mixed results. 

  •  Letting IT own delivery and planning around marketing programs doesn’t make sense.
  • Letting marketers direct data science resources and IT planning almost never works.

Is a CDO the answer?

Some early adopter organizations, as well as consultants, are promoting the role of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) as the first step in making a company data first.  While I think this role is an interesting one, and may be a good fit inside the 4C framework (more on this later), the current application of this role is more of a ‘sacrificial lamb’.  If you look at the current requirements for most CDO roles, they are significant, vague, and underinvested.  Please note I’m not throwing shade at any of the super capable people who have taken on CDO jobs in the enterprise, I’m just commiserating with professionals who are being given brutal mandates and no resourcing or support. I’ve been there.

So while the CDO approach is interesting, it is currently being applied as an alternate panacea to the ‘software fixes everything’ approach other businesses take.  Sorry – there’s no quick fix to being data-driven, it takes the whole team, working together, properly.

My Opinion?

Who do I think should own a data initiative inside an enterprise?  Let’s think for a second about data campaigns that have worked in the past.  

I’ve done a heck of a lot of retrospectives over the last decade plus in the digital analytics industry, from formal presentations to casual ‘so what just happened’ conversations.  The projects have ranged from the transformative ‘let’s get the whole company doing something differently’ to the highly tactical ‘let’s build the CEO one report’.  When a piece of work is successful there is one particular point of consistency that stands out, and that is a single highly motivated person with pre-negotiated internal support in the driver’s seat.

  • There has been no commonality in title, 
  • and our stakeholders have ranged from Manager to C Suite.
  • They have always been an internal employee, not an agency person, or consultant.  
  • They have come from all over the organization –  IT, Finance and Marketing have all been represented.  

Without fail however, our point person had clear ownership of the definition of ‘finished’ for their piece of work, and they had pre negotiated support from colleagues in other parts of their organization to ensure they could get where they were going.

If you were looking for an easy answer, like a specific title or department head, I’m sorry to disappoint you,  but if you take the time to find the correct owner for these types of initiatives, you’ll have a much better chance of a successful end result.

Stay tuned for more articles in this series.

Other articles in the 4 C’s series:

The 4 C’s for Executives

Data Democratization and the 4 C’s Framework

Love (for Data) Will Tear Us Apart – PART 1

Love (for Data) Will Tear Us Apart – PART 2

Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

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