data hype cycle





When a Chief Data Officer (CDO) first arrives at a business, they are often met with great expectations and much enthusiasm in the business for data success. This receptive atmosphere certainly beats a hostile one, however it does bring its own set of challenges. CDOs must be able to  navigate the data hype cycle.


The Gartner Hype Cycle is a graphical representation of the lifecycle stages a technology goes through from conception to maturity and widespread adoption. It looks like this:



data hype cycle


In ‘The Chief Data Officers Playbook, authors Caroline Carruthers and Peter Jackson explain that one of the biggest threats to a CDO in their first year is the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’:


“The need for the CDO is the Technology Trigger. The expectations rise as soon as the post is advertised and continue to rise once the CDO is in post and during the first few months. Inevitably, unless expectations are managed, the hopes of the organisation will fall into a trough of disillusionment if improvements in data are not delivered quickly and if the organisation is not evolving into a data-driven business quickly enough. Whether or not the trough is hit, the organisation the organisation will go through a period of enlightenment, either through managing expectations or by education once it is clear that expectations are not being met. In an ideal world there will be incremental improvement over time,” (p50, The Chief Data Officer Playbook)


Left unchecked, the Trough of Disillusionment can create major roadblocks for a newly appointed CDO. If they lose the support of key stakeholders in the business, making progress with their data strategy will become incredibly difficult. As a CDO, learning to mitigate the effects of the hype cycle is essential to maintaining credibility and sustaining vital relationships across the business. Fortunately there are two tools CDO’s can rely upon to avoid getting tangled up in the hype cycle.


Excellent communication


Effective communication and relationship building are vital skills for all current and aspiring CDOs. It is the responsibility of the CDO to spell out their vision and strategy in clear terms to everyone in the organisation. This is no small feat.


“Big data” has been a fashionable tech buzzword for years now. As a result of this, virtually everyone in business has a preconceived notion about what big data is and what it can achieve. In many instances, these preconceived notions are a far cry from reality. From the get go, CDOs should make an effort to dispel myths about data that likely exist throughout every layer of the organisation.


As well as debunking myths, communication is critical to managing the expectations and timescale of delivery when developing a data strategy. CDOs need to keep the big picture view in mind and use storytelling techniques to describe the journey they are taking people on.


Storytelling skills are invaluable when it comes to building and sharing persuasive case studies on the organisation’s successful data strategies and execution. Below are two storytelling best practices that a new CDO can use to make life easier:


Create a roadmap: CDOs are often seen as a data “savior” who can solve any problem related to analytics. Obviously, this isn’t the case. A focused roadmap of key projects will help you better articulate your focus. Think of it as a linear story with a beginning, middle and end. When you conceive of this roadmap as a narrative, it becomes easier for you to help your stakeholders understand what projects, tasks or steps are necessary to turn goals into results.


Use analogies: CDOs renowned as persuasive public speakers always compare their data governance, platform challenges, or monetisation scenarios to everyday experiences. For example, using sports team metaphors to describe the need for more cross-department collaboration or referring to medical diagnoses as a parallel to analysing equipment failure data. These relatable comparisons help to convey effective stories about data challenges that need to be solved.  


Incremental value-add


Those CDOs who can clearly articulate the challenges of of monetising data or share how they envision innovative products and services can more efficiently achieve their business goals by persuading business partners and others to collaborate.


The second tool is incremental value-add. Often a data strategy can be delivered as separate projects, or initiatives within the overall program. Having an end goal in mind is important, but as it is likely a long way off it can be difficult to maintain a sense of motivation and enthusiasm for the data project. To avoid a losing momentum, it helps to focus attention on smaller goals that can be achieved in a time frame of weeks or months rather than years. This point was highlighted by Caroline Carruthers in a recent blog post.


“I have found that often pilot projects, or feasibility studies, can not only add value to the business by fixing an immediate issue, but can also show the business the art of the possible, helping to avoid the hype cycle. Alternatively an early delivery of a data governance framework, or a piece of advanced analytics providing new insight can also be very effective,” she said.


The effective CDO will take time to plan a range of deliveries that fit within the framework of the overall data strategy. This ensures that as little effort as possible is wasted. And most importantly, by communicating this list of tangible deliveries to the rest of the business, using the storytelling techniques above, the hype cycle will be avoided.



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