Archives For #DataLeader

Preface*: The Data Leadership Nexus (Copyright 2013) connects Data, Information, Analytics, Executive Leadership and Organizational Culture to create strategic impact, differentiation and enterprise value within every organization striving to become a true Predictive Enterprise.

Body: As we all prepare to attend this May’s (Information Age) “Data Summit” ( and to celebrate those chosen as the (Information Age) “Data 50” for 2017” (, I wanted to reflect on how far we have progressed (or not) on the notion of Data Leadership since I began to write about it in these pages (Information Age) in 2013.

The origins of the Data Leadership conversation go back several decades to my time in the supercomputer sector and the “Grand Challenge” problems that we had been tasked in solving. In those days, CPU speed (and cooling requirements) and Network bandwidth dominated the discussion, while Data drove the outcomes. During that time in history Leaders had deep backgrounds in Science, Engineering & Math and all understood first-hand the scope of these challenges, as well as the limited means to surmount them.

Fast forward to today and we find that much has changed since then in terms of the characteristics & competencies of Leaders, as well as Computing & Networking hardware. Today, Data is recognized as centric (in all respects) to solving all Challenges, Grand or not, but not very well understood by those who ultimately have leadership accountability for it.

During this span of time the Data Management Team (an IT function) remains for the most part in charge of all data within each and every Organization. Whether it is under the auspices of a CIO, or an anointed proxy leader such as a CDO, data is still managed by IT at the direction of technical leaders. This is not a measure of any progress whatsoever in respect to either treating data as a key Organizational asset or establishing accountability for its creation, use (via Analytics) and stewardship by the CEO and Board. How can this be one should ask?

I have boiled it down to one common theme; Does your CEO (and Board) have the Right Stuff to do the job (of Data Leadership)? The simple answer is (emphatically), “No, not yet!”

For those who are fans of the book/movie, “The Right Stuff”(1) you might have been persuaded to believe that it was a story about Astronauts and their early struggles & successes, but in reality, it is one about Leadership. NASA as a program was successful not by having better technology, but by leveraging competent & capable Leadership from the top-down. Each Leader in their hierarchy had” The Right Stuff” in respect to fostering the mission & vision of the Program from a position of strength in respect to their core knowledge, skills and acumen. These same strengths are the foundations of Data Leadership as well.

To fully realize the power of digital, data & analytics in any Organization, no matter the sector, the entire leadership team must be competent and capable in exploiting these capabilities in every activity they undertake. They cannot delegate these requirements to so-called Data Scientists, Proxy Leaders e.g. CDO’s, or those in the IT Department who provide service delivery to them. They alone must accept responsibility for the successful execution of your data-driven strategy and be accountable to their superiors (including the Board) if they fail to do so. A true Data Leader must be more than a cheerleader who demands that others provide fruitful outcomes from digital, data & analytics. He/She must lead by example and be “hands on” in terms of approach and delivering the goods. This is the essence of having The Right Stuff, not the Leadership Fluffery that I continue to see across all Sectors. Creating Competitive Advantage from your Digital, Data & Analytics investments and capabilities is a Leadership Accountability that every Data Leader must step up to in order to succeed.

In today’s world, bona fide Leaders are hard to find under the best of circumstances. True Data Leaders are an exceptional find for any Organization and most are an amalgam of many talents. They cannot educated for this role, but rather molded into it based on a variety of life experiences and inherent capabilities. True Data Leaders are well rounded, comfortable with their responsibilities and always have a bit of swagger associated with those who have The Right Stuff.

Please join us on May 18th for the Information Age “Data Summit” and learn more about “Data Leadership and The Right Stuff”.

(1) “The Right Stuff” (’79) – Tom Wolfe’s epic tale of the NASA’s early days and the Mercury 7 Astronaut Program”

*-This posting appears in edited for as an article in the April 2017 edition of Information Age ( and can be accessed on the IA Hub (

My career has taken many paths over the course of time. In my early years I was very much involved in the Music Business, specifically on the audio engineering & studio management side of it. I got my early start in Detroit at a little place called Motown, and quickly moved into opportunities where my engineering & management skills & acumen were finely honed by roles that had ever-growing responsibilities associated with them. My final position in the “Music Biz” before I left for the technology vendor (Sony) & management consulting (IMECS) world was as VP & GM of Criteria Studios in Miami. Criteria was known then as “Atlantic (Records) South” and had many hundreds of Platinum & Gold records (along with other awards) lining the studio walls (there were 5 of them). All of these awards were based on the sales of records by the numerous artists who had produced & recorded their hit records there over the studios 25+ year history. Just prior to returning to Criteria for my last assignment there (I was previously Chief Engineer in an earlier stint), I was the GM for Island Studios worldwide, part of the Island Records Group run by Chris Blackwell. This is where the theme for my presentation at Data Leadership 2015 starts to come into focus (Profiles in Data Leadership).

In 1977 (yes, I am that old) I arrived in London as the new GM to review the Islands studios there, to make final plans for the construction of the second Studio at Compass Point  as well as to support the efforts at Bob Marley’s “Tuff Gong” studio which was soon to be under construction in Kingston on an Island Records property. I spent my time shuttling from the London Kensington Hilton (the site for Data Leadership 2015) to the various Island facilities around London (Hammersmith). I was quite young then in relative terms, but remember all of it as if it were yesterday and realized just how much Accountability was being placed at my feet (not just the Responsibilities of my job description). Island Records was betting a lot of my engineering know-how, my management acumen and my strategic vision for the future of its recording & production assets and other strategic endeavors. I knew then that I needed to become a Data Leader as data (albeit analog) was our business and everything that I did going forward needed to create an environment where all of our engineers, producers & artists (all of Islands artists recorded at our facilities) could benefit from the best recording & production capabilities available anywhere (our competitive advantage) in order to create award winning (and high selling) records, music videos, etc. We also needed our studios to be so highly regarded that the rest of the music business would stand in line to use them in order to create hit records for themselves as well. My ability to accomplish this came from the Top-down Leadership that Chris Blackwell and his Executive Team provided me with and their support & mentorship along this journey. When I left Island Records in 1981 to move to Nashville to perform similar such miracles there I was no longer a young Engineer/Manager, but a Data Leader in my own right. During my tenure we had created the right Data Leadership structures from the Top-down, adapted our Culture to act as one organization in spite of huge geographical & cultural differences and leveraged all of our analog data know-how & creativity to create competitive advantage for our studios and their clients.

When I look back on these experiences and the early tests of my leadership abilities, I realize how much the world has changed around me. Today we continue to have Data Leadership by Proxy where non-executive technical managers are asked to assume accountabilities that Senior Executives are either unwilling or incapable of supporting. We have a myopic focus on technology and buzz words as “engines for innovation”, but realize than neither has the required fuel that only true leadership can provide. And, finally, I see everyone wanting to be a “Specialist Unicorn” in their field of expertise so that they can make more money or feel superior to everyone around them when the key to success lies in the “Pervasive Use of data & analytics, not the Selective use by the few”.

In my presentation at Data Leadership 2015 I will explore the background of Eight CEOs who are featured in my work: “Profiles in Data Leadership”. I will also wax a bit nostalgically about what it was like staying at the London Kensington Hilton before a number of them were born yet.




During November’s Data Leadership Conference in London I will be updating the audience on the progress to date that we have made during 2015: The Year of Data Leadership. I promise to share those findings in a subsequent posting shortly after the conference. In the meantime, this is the premise that started the thought process I used:

“The strategic value of Big Data & Analytics can only be realized when they are fully leveraged and exploited by the entire Enterprise. Top Down Data Leadership is essential to the success of these endeavors.”


As the focus of industry hype moves from Big Data to the Internet of Things we have a unique opportunity to turn our attention to one of the underlying disablers of broad success in using data & analytics to their full potential in any Organization; the lack of Top Down Data Leadership.  During the past couple of years we have seen a fever pitch in Organizations’ anointing proxies to the status of superheroes in respect to Data & Analytics Officers. While there have been many such appointments, most are now being scrutinized as the widening gulf between the rhetoric and reality becomes more apparent. This effort to create “Chief Whatever Officers” has been foolhardy in my opinion, as it has completely dodges the need for the Board and CEO to become directly accountable for the Organizations management and exploitation of data and their leverage of analytics across the enterprise to create a “culture of evidence-based decision making”. My aim in 2015 is to change this dynamic.

In 2015, I would like to create much more than awareness of this underlying challenge, but to make actionable its solution in what I am calling “The Year of Data Leadership”. In the Year of Data Leadership I would like every CEO and their Board (Public, Private, NGO, Not-for-Profit, etc.) to accept the fact that they (and Not IT) are fully accountable for “all things data and analytics”. I want them to embrace this accountability and make it core to their Strategies and Operational Plans. I am challenging them to step up to this leadership mantle and provide the Organization with a plan of action to put it on a trajectory to becoming a “Predictive Enterprise” within 5 years (2020). This Decision Making transformation would move them from being gut-based decision (relying on experience and anecdotes) making Organization to one where evidence (facts, decision science and the appropriate amount of intuition) guide all decisions at every level.

This is an ambitious undertaking for even the most agile of Organizations, but a necessary one if the competitive advantages of a Predictive Enterprise are ever going to be realized. To accomplish such a Transformation I strongly recommend approaching it as follows;

1.- Immerse the CEO, Board & Senior Executive Team in a series of Boot camps designed to immediately (and measurably) raise their acumen and competencies in the domains of Decision Science & Analytics, for “you cannot lead what you don’t understand”.

2.- Make Data, Information & Analytics Core Competencies in your strategic and operational endeavors. Make then pervasive and break down silos and centers of excellence to make capabilities mainstream and ubiquitous to all aspects of your operational domain. This will require investment in staff development and in the early stages may require shadowing of staff with outside experts, mentors and coaches.

3.- Manifest Cultural Adoption by all members of the Organization of this new strategic paradigm i.e. Becoming a Predictive Enterprise. Organizational Culture is “the shadow of the CEO, Board and Senior Executive Team”. It is found in every corridor and behind every door across the enterprise and is molded from the Top-down. To begin to change a culture requires Top Down Leadership to changes it behavior and modify all cultural norms and activities. The entire Leadership team must engage with the Organization directly (with support by Change professionals) to lead by example in regards to championing the new direction and its virtues.

This three-pronged approach will produce the maximum results in the shortest period of time and requires close coordination, substantial investment of time and resources to succeed. It is truly transformational and should not be a sub-priority to other Enterprise-wide strategic and operational initiatives.

The Nexus of Top-Down Leadership, Cultural Adoption and the enabling Core Competencies of Data, Information & Analytics creates a unique strategic framework for becoming a Predictive Enterprise. All components are required to work in concert to achieve a true transformational outcome within any Organization who wants to fully exploit data & analytics for competitive advantage.

*-This posting in an edited version appeared in the January 2015 issue of Information Age (UK)


Digital (adj) the predominate use of Internet, Mobile & Internet of Things technology platforms to radically improve Customer Engagement, Collaboration & Operational Efficiencies.

Transformation (noun): a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance; a process by which one function is converted into another that is equivalent in some important respect but is differently expressed or represented.


Digital Transformation has become the de jour subject to espouse your beliefs on in 2015. As such, I felt obliged to add my voice to this chorus. Hopefully readers will agree once they have read this.

Digital is one of the key Disruption Initiatives being applied by business strategists & enterprise architects to wake-up moribund industries such as Financial Services (Banking & Insurance), Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), etc. It promises superior levels of engagement with Consumers (Customers) for a fraction of the cost of conventional (Analog) methods (Print Media, Television Advertising, etc.), amongst other strategic benefits. Considering that many of these particular industry sectors spend 5-7% of their gross revenue on marketing and branding activities it is not hard to see why the disruptive approach of Digital is so compelling & attractive to them.

On a technical level Digital speaks to the leverage of many disparate initiatives in Mobility, Internet, Applications, Security, etc. to create a suite of capabilities all focused on Customer & Collaboration. It allows IT functions to create an integrate delivery stream which they can manage end-to-end.

In spite of deep spending on Digital Transformation endeavors, payback still seems illusive for most. Like most Transformational endeavors, Digital is not immune from the intrinsically high rates of program failure & disappointing strategic outcomes. In most cases this is directly attributable to abysmal (dis-engaged) Leadership by the CEO and Board (who cheerlead, rather than take hands-on accountability) and overall poor execution by Consultants who sell Transformation Methodologies & Services to these same leaders. Given the stakes one should ask, “Why is this?” These are my thoughts on the “Why”.

CEO’s and Boards use Transformation as a strategic tool to move a well-established organization out of its current doldrums and into a leadership position once again. It is a black art for the most part as most of these same people rarely understand how to execute Transformational Change and typically bet the farm (so to speak) on Consultants and hucksters i.e. Thought Leaders, who sell transformation as the “cure to all that ails” with the proviso of “Trust us, we will handle all the details”. The failure rate and associated costs of these failures has become so high (and contentious) that all of the top tier consultancies now require their customers to sign gag orders which forbid them from going public about these debacles, much less requiring private arbitration to resolve all contractual/financial disputes. Given this, most Transformation Programs seem doomed from the start.  Digital Transformation is no different in this regard and yet I firmly believe that it is imperative for all Organizations (Private, Public and Not for Profit) to embrace this paradigm shift. The primary rationale for this is the fact that it forces these same Organizations to abandon their backward-looking, gut-based decision making & customer engagement endeavors in favor of evidence-based & “always on” approaches, key components of a Predictive Enterprise. In my advisory endeavors I have always counseled senior executives & boards to “never waste a crisis” in respect to fostering real (transformational) change in your business model and culture and see the pursuit of Digital as such an opportunity. Without a compelling impetus Organizations’ can barely muster marginal or incremental change successfully.

Digital Transformation can provide a unique opportunity to realize the benefits of becoming a Predictive Enterprise while changing the dynamic between the Organization and its Customers (constituents), Partners & Suppliers. It portends to be the single most dramatic overall change that any established Organization can pursue as it breaks its many ties with the status quo and truly transforms.  The key to success is Leadership from the Top-Down (CEO & Board), an Engaged Culture and embracing Digital Outcomes (data, analytics, etc.) as Core Competencies and not IT functions. Digital Transformation is synonymous with what I have evangelized in The Data Leadership Nexus in this regard.

*-An edited version of this posting first appeared as an article in the March 2015 issue of Information Age (UK)

In advance of my presentation at the Data Leadership 2015 Conference in London (November 26th) entitled: “Profiles in Data Leadership”, I thought that I would set the tone by asking a fundamental question; Do you have what it (really) takes to be a Data & Analytics Leader? I hope you enjoy it.

It seems that everyone today aspires to be a Leader in whatever activity or organization that they are involved in, no matter their background, capabilities or experience.  Many endeavor to pursue the Mantle of Leadership by engaging in “soft activities” such as writing articles & blogs, social media participation, conference presentations, etc., to demonstrate their abilities & potential, but few are successful it seems. Conventional wisdom says that being promoted to Manager is a pathway to Leadership as well. I disagree with all of these approaches.

Over the course of my career I have come to this belief; Leadership is Earned, not Learned! You can educate anyone on the principles of Leadership, but that does not make them a Leader. Leadership only comes from experience, character, fortitude under fire and other key behavioral/cognitive attributes. Given all this, it brings me to the title of my column this month: “Do you have what it takes to be a Data Leader?”

Recently, Information Age announced its selections for the “Data 50”, a group of data leaders & influencers in the UK. The “50” were chosen from a group of nominated candidates submitted this past Summer (2015). The Data 50 represent an interesting cross-section of data folks in the UK from all sectors and I am familiar with a number of them.  Independent of the Data 50, I have been writing over the course of this “Year of Data Leadership (2015)” about the 8 CEOs whom I have chosen for my series; “Profiles in Data Leadership”. Not surprisingly, there is no overlap between these two groups as they do represent completely different ends of the what I refer to as the Data Leadership spectrum. Let me explain why.

At one end we have the notion of what I call “The Data Leadership Nexus”, a strategic framework for becoming a Predictive Enterprise. Central to this concept is the role of Top-down Leadership by the CEO & Board in guiding the successful exploitation of Data & Analytics by everyone across their Organization in order to make it pervasive and ultimately to create sustainable sources of Competitive Advantage. The Nexus presumes that you have a highly functioning Leadership structure in place already, which is fully accountable for strategic, tactical & operational performance in the classic sense, but has also undergone a transformation over time to be highly competent in areas of data & analytics. This Data Leadership Nexus is Transformational in approach and encompasses Executive Leadership, Core Strategy, Organizational Culture & Technology to achieve its desired outcomes.

At the other end of the Data Leadership spectrum, we have the traditional technology-focused Data Management activity within the IT Organization. Leadership here drives functional responsibilities and is focused on how to best deliver data & analytics as a service to Users and Executives. This is a very critical role in every organization and today and is often referred to as that of the Chief Data Officer. In many of these same Organizations this role may also be responsible for Data Governance activities as well as liaison with Business Units to establish SLA’s, Functional Requirements, etc. The emphasis for this role is to provide technology services & expertise in support of the Organization’s Objectives (strategic, tactical & operational).

In order for any Organization to be successful in its quest to become a Predictive Enterprise, the entire Data Leadership spectrum (both ends, much less the middle) must have inherently strong leaders in all roles that intersect with data, analytics & information governance. Whether top-down, bottom-up or middle-out in respect to the location of these roles or their span of responsibilities, every Data Leader must work from a position of strength & experience in respect to knowledge, acumen & abilities. This is a much deeper set of requirements that almost all other managerial or executive positions.

If you want to become a Data Leader (or a better one if you already are) my advice is as follows; You must be a true leader at your core, one who understands not just the technology, but the why & how of making it a core competency for your Organization in its pursuit of strategic excellence. You must be fully accountable for those who work within your span of responsibilities and lead from the heart. Finally, you must steel yourself each and every day to more worthy and capable of the challenge you have been tasked with. In the end, Leadership is not for everyone, especially those who want the spotlight on themselves constantly.

*This posting in an edited version appears as an article in the November 2015 issue of Information Age (

An old American idiom says: “You have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians”.

(*This article originally appeared in the July/August Edition of Information Age (UK) (

“This issue of Information Age begins my 3rd year as Resident Thought Leader, “Hype Debunker” and advocate for Top-Down Data Leadership. Over the past two years I have covered a variety of topics in my monthly column, many of which I believe still remain front of mind for you the reader. The one topic that continues to occupy my thinking is that of the madness known as “The Chief Whatever Officer (CWO) Syndrome”. It began with the drumbeat for having a “Chief Data Officer” and has grown substantially in all directions. We are now approaching 100 of these CWO roles, which are being advocated by every pundit, analyst, consultant, recruiter and media hack out there, along with an army of “wannabes” who feel eminently qualified to fill one of these roles. To me, it is an absurd notion that we need to define & hire/designate someone as a “Chief” each time a challenge or opportunity arises that requires Leadership attention & accountability. Isn’t this what we pay the big bucks to the CEO and his/her Team to do? Why do we need a Proxy Leader who is at best only partially responsible for a particular function associated with their role, when we have a CEO & Board who are fully accountable for all strategic outcomes? More importantly one might ask: “How did we get here?” I will attempt to answer all of these in the remainder of my column.

As way of background; over the course of management history we have had an organizational structure that mimics how humans behave i.e. hierarchically. During this time there has always been Senior Leaders at the very top of the Organization with a hierarchy of subordinates cascading down through the logical number of levels required, until you reach the front-line worker. This construct was based on the so-called Knowledge Tree as well as being driven by the practicalities of Span of Control. It has been a workable construct in spite of the dynamics faced by most Organizations in their daily operations and over a long history. Over time these Senior Leaders were denoted as “Chief Officers” in respect to their area of accountability e.g. Executive (CEO), Operations (COO), Finance (CFO), etc. Each Senior Leader had a well-defined remit of functions & activities that they were responsible for and all reported into the CEO (who in theory then reports to the Board) in terms of accountability. This structure has been the status quo in all Organizational sectors for many decades and I suspect it will be for many more to come in spite of the zeal for so-called Disruption.

What has become an affront to this harmonious organizational structure is the zeal & ferocity with which non-management thinkers have begun promoting the hiring of Chief Whatever Officers at every turn. We now live in a world where they believe that Organization’s needs handfuls of these non-executive Proxy Leaders to “own” core competencies such as; data, digital, analytics, customer, compliance, security, etc., etc., all without any final accountability. They also advocate that one Chief Whatever Officer should report to another in some bizarre construct. Enough is Enough! We need to end this tyranny and get back to the basics of Top-down Leadership.

If we truly want the evolving competencies of data, analytics, digital, etc. to be fully transformational and to use them to create sustainable competitive advantage for our Organizations then we need to “bake them into” our core strategies, their execution and the realization of all outcomes. This approach can only be successful when driven by the CEO and Board, from the very top into all levels of the fabric of the Organization. There can be no proxy substitutes for true Leadership in any Organization. It is the height of anarchy.

In all Organization’s, Strategy, Culture & Core Competencies are formulated and nurtured by the Senior Leadership Team in a coherent fashion and embraced by everyone in their daily endeavors. Creating arbitrary points of focus & soft power structures causes confusion, rancor and competition within the formalized structure of the Organization and its natural hierarchies. Success is difficult enough to achieve without creating a minefield of Organizational disconnects along the journey.

In the end, CEO’s and Boards should not be swayed to adopt Fashion Statements, False Gods or Superheroes. The Chief Whatever Officer Syndrome is an amalgam of all three with no long-term sustainable benefits.