In a recent inquiry, a new chief data officer (CDO) asked where to start in terms of knowing how to build a community around data and analytics, particularly with a limited budget to hire.

Finding “Friendlies”

My first suggestion was to look at the case study I did a few years ago on Seattle Children’s Hospital. Gene Kolker, the CDO at the time, shared his strategy for setting up the CDO Analytics team, which acted as a center of excellence, and for building a broader data and analytics community by identifying “friends of data and analytics” (FDAs). This was his strategy for evangelizing the work the team did and the services he could offer to others, as well as cultivating a community outside of his own team.

Who were the FDAs? Anyone in the organization who is friendly to the notion of data and analytics. These are people who look to data to inform decisions rather than strictly relying on their expertise or gut instinct. They can come from any role in the organization and don’t necessarily have to have any formal statistical training; they are analytical. At the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the Data Analytics and Reporting team also sought out the analytically minded. In some cases, these were recent graduates who might have had some training but never applied their lessons in practice. In other cases, these were nurses or residents who were eager to learn.

The idea for these data and analytics teams is not just to give fish but to teach others to fish. They encourage and help others to work with data and analytics. The FDAs become more familiar with the data, statistics, and analytic methods and tools through war-room sessions or office hours where they can bring in their own problems and projects and get help.

To expand the community, data and analytics teams also host “lunch-and-learns” or poster sessions in the cafeteria and offer incentives like pie on Pi Day to encourage participation. Building a community of FDAs enables the organization to scale and facilitate the adoption of insights-derived actions.

Winning Over Skeptics

Sometimes making friends isn’t easy. Many new CDOs start with a “listening tour” to better understand the needs of their peers and identify where they can help. In one case, a surgeon didn’t understand how the data guy could tell him how to do his job. It was a little like “what do you know about surgery?” This required a little show and tell. But when the data revealed factors contributing to post-operative infection rates and they resonated with the surgeon, a new friend was made. Winning over the skeptics requires demonstrating value.

Getting Started

In the report “Strategic CDOs Accelerate Insights-to-Actions,” I outlined 10 steps to better serving business partners, including the listening tour to identify use cases — more on that in another blog. Other reports in the CDO research series include:

And a new infographic, “Forrester Infographic: Top Performers Appoint Data Insights Leaders,” provides a snapshot of the evolution of the CDO role.