Data leaders need to overcome their fears and unlock their creativity

Author and data management consultant Caroline Carruthers argues that data leaders need to tap into their creativity to make their analytical work pay off

Data is one of the most exciting sectors to be involved in at the moment. We’ve just spent two years poring over graphs and statistics about the pandemic, and many industries are about to embark on digital transformation journeys – underpinned, of course, by data-driven automation and machine learning.

The freedom and creativity given to us by data means that being a chief data officer (CDO), or really any kind of data leader, is exciting at the best of times, but now the possibilities are truly endless.

But despite all of this, many data leaders can feel the pressure of their role. How do they innovate? How do they use data to stay ahead of the competition?  How do they ensure the rest of their organisation can use the data products they are helping to build?

Unleashing data creativity

The truth is that, while data allows us to unleash our creative side, it is also an incredibly demanding industry to be in. There are the above questions about data innovation and data literacy, but there are also the important regulatory considerations to any role in data: am I keeping customer information secure, or am I abiding by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? All of that bright-eyed creativity that first attracted data leaders to their role can quickly be overwhelmed by worries about data privacy and compliance.

The good news is that, although the compliance side of data leadership is important, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to define your role. In fact, whenever data leaders come to me asking for advice on how to start a new role in data, I always tell them to start with the basics: once you’ve got your data foundations right, you can worry less about compliance and more about the exciting innovations that data can unlock.

Data maturity as a foundation

So, what are these data foundations? For me, they boil down to four main areas of data maturity: purpose, people, method and tools. So, what exactly is data maturity, and how does it help to unlock the creative potential of data leaders?

Those who have attended the Carruthers and Jackson Summer School will know all about the “data maturity wheel”, but for those who haven’t, here is a quick refresher. Assessing data maturity means looking at every aspect of a business, from its data strategy and governance through to its tech usage and the skills of its staff.

It is less of a pop quiz on data, and more of a dig into the very core foundations of an organisation’s ability to use data to its full potential. Understanding the purpose of your data, and recognising the need to build that purpose into your core business strategy, is a critical first step to unlocking data-driven business transformation.

Learning from your data peers

Once a data leader has successfully built that foundational data maturity, they can move on to developing the exciting data transformations that organisations need in order to stay ahead of their competition. Being creative is a prerequisite to any data-related role, but for newcomers to the data sector, it is important that they are given the opportunity to learn from more experienced colleagues in order to hone that creativity and deliver better data-enabled operations.

It is that need to be able to share ideas and learn from experienced colleagues that led to the creation of our Summer School, which is back for its biggest ever year this summer. Delivered for free as a 10-week virtual course for aspiring and current data leaders, the Summer School offers practical advice on data operations as well as fostering a community of learning and best-practice for the next generation of CDOs.

The next few years are set to see a huge amount of innovation in the data sector and, although that can be a daunting prospect for both current and future data leaders, it should also be an exciting one. I firmly believe that the best way to foster new and creative ways of collecting, analysing and using data is to exchange ideas and best practices within a group of peers, each of whom brings different perspectives and experiences.

You can register your interest for the 2023 Carruthers and Jackson summer school here.

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