Strong Data Governance: A Prerequisite for Being a Data-Driven CIO

Sanjay Srivastava of Genpact on Issues Facing C-Suite Leaders
Strong Data Governance: A Prerequisite for Being a Data-Driven CIO
Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital strategist, Genpact

With the recent global issues beginning to recede, a refined CIO is emerging from the crisis. At a time when enterprises of all sizes are aspiring to be more data driven and customer centric, CIOs, with their disruptive agenda, are ready to lead data-driven organizations. The CIOs' role is no longer limited to offer technology as a service or apply technology to power processes. A CIO entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the organization's future with the right combination of technology, sustainability and governance. However, the road to success, as expected, has its nuances and challenges.

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Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital strategist, Genpact, shares various issues facing the C-suite, from navigating outside-in and inside-out approaches to fuel innovation, to the role of data and governance in surviving a possible recession.

Edited excerpts follow:

You recently said, "A CIO/CTO needs to push themselves outside the four walls of the enterprise to be able to drive the thinking inside." What does it take to think outside the box and balance this paradox of the inside-out and outside-in approach?

As digital becomes the driving force behind the transformation, the role of the CIO is evolving from being flight engineers - key to keeping the aircraft in good shape for flying - to becoming pilots and co-pilots, who set the vision and direction for business transformation using digital components. Therefore, their skill sets now require a balance of outside-in and inside-out critical thinking.

As an insider, CIOs must think outside the contours of their organizations, separate themselves from the internal inertia and incubate innovation with the help of emerging technologies. They must experiment with ways to leverage the innovation ecosystem. They have to look through new capabilities and quickly figure out what's going to work and what's not. This will help them attract and build a team of technologists that is innovative, entrepreneurial and change-focused.

On the other hand, what is equally important to drive transformation is the internal credibility and the buy-in from a broad set of business leaders, which a CIO must learn to maintain. I strongly believe that business transformation requires visible internal change and orchestrates across four different assets in a company, namely, technology, data, people and process. Therefore, the technology leaders also need to be insiders who understand the business, nurture connections, leverage the operating history and garner people's support for the change they are driving.

In this age where some of the most successful transformation stories are being scripted by technology leaders, data seems to be an indispensable asset. While every CIO/CDO aspires to make their enterprise data driven, not all are successful. Where do they fall short?

The need to marry an organization's data strategy with its business strategy is foundational to getting data right, yet data is still an undervalued asset across many enterprises. Some of it comes from the fact that the opportunities around data are often misunderstood. But success in the experience economy, where businesses can flourish or fail depending on the quality of the experiences they offer to employees, customers and partners, is co-related to the use of data as an asset class. It is about time that an entire genre of industries is re-imagined based on data-driven insights. Technology is only the engine, whereas data is the fuel that helps it move.

Beyond strategy, governance is key - being informed and implementing the best policies and procedures around the way data is managed, governed, controlled, used and owned are crucial. The challenge with regards to governance is a lack of understanding from the business. And fixing it involves data strategy, lineage and clear lines of ownership with accountability flowing back to the business. Even for companies that are truly data driven, the day-to-day management and governance over data quality and engineering is still an evolutionary discipline.

The greatest challenge for a CIO to implement a data-driven strategy in an enterprise is that no matter how great the computer vision, text extraction or pattern recognition algorithm is, the recommendation needs to be contextualized or refined based on its usage. Ultimately, humans must make the most of the data, analytics and AI to make a decision, often in a split second. We learned this while refining an AI engine for Envision Racing, a founding team in Formula E racing. The AI engine was created to sift through all the radio communications received during the race to remove all extra, irrelevant noise from multiple radio channels and feed the driver only the relevant information for the race at that moment in time. This turned out to be incredibly helpful for the drivers in the race, who can have a razor-sharp focus on the racetrack while getting only the information they need to make those critical winning decisions.

CEOs across industries need tech leaders to be at the forefront in leading the business. The CIOs/CTOs are embracing new responsibilities in the shifting paradigm. What will help them succeed, and what could hamper their efforts?

The role that technology practice plays in an organization has evolved, and so have the responsibilities of CIOs and CTOs. From delivering technology as a service, leaders are now looking at unlocking technology as a strategy. As CIOs increasingly integrate advanced technologies into core business aspects, they face several challenges, including maintaining comprehensive business controls and a lack of collaboration between IT and business functions. Frequent access to the CEO makes all the difference in CIOs' ability to leverage combined business and technology expertise to influence the company's strategic business agenda.

Besides this, CIOs must also look at people, process and data holistically to drive transformational value. Data has moved from being a byproduct of automation to a valuable asset in leading enterprises, which has become a key priority for CIOs today. Additionally, digital transformation is about fundamentally transforming end-to-end processes. CIOs must understand that this requires developing a deep understanding of the industry nuances and adopting best-in-class process metrics. It also requires re-imagining and re-engineering the processes well before automating them. On the people dimension, it is vital for CIOs to think through the new operating model, resourcing and reskilling as critical enablers in driving the transformation of the enterprise.

While many enterprises were able to successfully navigate their businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is experiencing another challenge - the macroeconomic downturn. Can a CIO reduce the economic impact through tech-led innovations?

Technology provides companies the power to disrupt and the tools to innovate. Emerging technologies are shifting the threshold of innovation. Yet, true innovation comes not from experimentation but from industrialization at scale, and it's important to balance the work on new capabilities with established mechanisms and processes.

The other important attribute of the best technology-enabled corporations is the clear realization and distinction between a culture of innovation and a culture of invention. Innovation is about bringing the best of the ecosystem capabilities together and driving incremental value on top as opposed to re-inventing the subcomponents and diluting the return on invested capital. When it comes to disrupting at scale, CIOs need to decide what level of control to maintain centrally and what level of innovation to allow at the edge.

Finally, one of the biggest concerns is the war on talent. While nobody has truly resolved it, what is clear is that this requires a multi-pronged approach to employee experience, including compensation, work satisfaction, learning, purpose and more. Ultimately, it is the leadership that plays the key role in driving innovation and disruption - both in their willingness to encourage leading-edge innovation and their ability to drive fundamental change at the core.

Many ambitious transformation projects fail due to a lack of a cohesive approach across the enterprise. We often call it a governance issue. How should CIOs/CDOs deal with this to ensure success?

Many digital transformations fail as it becomes increasingly difficult to connect people, processes, data and technology. Defining a framework for technology governance, aligning it with the company's purpose around sustainability or social responsibility, and embedding ethics into the technology governance from the start are critical. CIOs have a multi-dimensional view of how to drive the environmental, social and governance agenda and are shifting from a responsive role to a proactive leadership role. Other than technology, in the end, it's humans that make change successful. Business agility and learning velocity are becoming increasingly important, and technology leaders play a crucial role in delivering this. Agile principles create a circle of success by driving adoption, changing the culture of the enterprise, creating stronger loyalty and attracting purpose-driven talent.

About the Author

Smruti Gandhi

Smruti Gandhi

Executive Editor, ISMG

Gandhi has more than a decade of experience in community engagement and incubating industry events. She is extremely proactive in building engagements with communities including CEO, CFOs and CIOs. Prior to joining ISMG, she worked with Dun & Bradstreet and Great Place to Work.

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