“I’m looking for a company’s ‘data mobilizer’...that individual with buy-in from the top, who understands the value of BI, and who has the ability to build consensus.” - Kate Eberle, Director of Consulting, Blue Margin
The champions of data initiatives range from CEOs and CIOs, to Directors of FP&A or Senior Applications Development Managers. The titles vary, but the core skillsets don't. We call these individuals "data mobilizers.” They typically understand the value of surfacing key performance data to key personnel and view data visibility as a strategic pillar for moving a business forward.
Data project executive sponsors
A few key roles are generally well-positioned to own BI initiatives. Consider the following observations from our experience working with 200+ clients:
- CFOs often have good instincts about data governance and quality. They can ensure solid financial reporting but sometimes don’t attach as strongly to operational reporting across the company. (link to Carter Freeman article)
- CIO and CTOs often have experience with BI’s underlying architecture and infrastructure and the technical resources on hand to direct the work. However, BI initiatives can end up in an IT bottleneck alongside their other concurrent work streams. When the CIO embraces the higher-level goal of getting the entire company to data-driven, they can be an ideal mobilizer for BI projects.
- COOs are uniquely positioned to understand the value of connecting operational measures and KPIs to business outcomes. They understand how the gears of the company mesh and can be a great mobilizer when they understand how to use dashboards to put strategy into action (i.e., through alignment and team-accountability around a goal).
In our podcast episode, Who Should Own BI in Your Company, Brick Thompson, Blue Margin CEO, and Kate Eberle, Director of Consulting, discuss the importance of identifying the right data mobilizers, and the benefits and challenges different functional leaders bring.
Blue Margin looks for mobilizers early in our partnerships and when we find them, it's a recipe for success. Where do your data mobilizers sit today?
About Blue Margin
We help private equity and mid-market companies quickly organize their data into dashboards, the most efficient way to turn strategy into action, and create a culture of accountability focused on growth and profitability. We call it The Dashboard Effect, the title of our book and podcast. Our mission is to meet your needs and budget and deliver breakthroughs to our clients early and often.
For Further Reading/Listening
- The Dashboard Effect Podcast
- Data Visibility and the PE-backed Executive
- 2 Essential Ingredients of Successful Data Projects
Villarruel, Antonio. (2022, March 25). RACI. Project Management.com. https://www.projectmanagement.com/contentPages/wiki.cfm?ID=234008&thisPageURL=/wikis/234008/RACI#_=_
Brick and Kate discuss the different roles within a company that typically own the BI function and some of the potential pros and cons of each.
Brick Thompson: 0:04
Welcome to The Dashboard Effect podcast. I'm Brick Thompson, Founder and CEO of Blue Margin.
Kate Eberle: 0:10
And I'm Kate Eberle, our Director of Consulting.
Brick Thompson: 0:12
Kate Eberle: 0:13
Brick Thompson: 0:14
Good to sit down with you. It's our first time doing one of these together,
Kate Eberle: 0:16
Yeah, I'm so happy to be here.
Brick Thompson: 0:18
All right. So what are we going to talk about today?
Kate Eberle: 0:21
So we're going to talk a little about who should own business intelligence in your company.
Brick Thompson: 0:26
Okay, so you mean like, which which role within the company should own BI?
Kate Eberle: 0:31
Yeah, that's exactly right. Who should be responsible for making sure you've got BI at your company?
Brick Thompson: 0:36
Okay. And why is it important to think about that?
Kate Eberle: 0:40
You know, business intelligence is one of those weird needs at companies where it really is pretty cross functional. So it goes throughout the organization up and down vertically, horizontally. And that just means it's hard to manage, it's hard to really understand who should make sure that it's actually being rolled out throughout the organization.
Brick Thompson: 0:57
Yeah, it's interesting, because as a group of engineers, and consultants, we deal with a lot of questions just around the technology. We don't often get questions about how to organize the team. And yet, that can really be sort of the make or break for one of these projects.
Kate Eberle: 1:15
Yeah, I think we have the most pain when we can't find really the owner of BI. Because it means that there's no one to make decisions. At the end of the day, there's no one to really get the budget approval, or even wrangle executives in the team to make it come to life.
Brick Thompson: 1:30
Exactly. So who typically does own BI within companies?
Kate Eberle: 1:36
Yeah, I, you know, I think there are the three big buckets, right? You have Finance, IT, or the Operations side of the house. So I think it's pretty typical that we see it land in the CFO house, or even the CIO, CTO, but it's not unusual to see Operations picking up as well, if you have a smaller company that doesn't have those distinct roles necessarily.
Brick Thompson: 1:57
Okay, so I'm guessing that there's advantages and disadvantages, potentially, to each one of those areas. And I'll bet you there's other people that end up owning this sometimes, but I agree, those are sort of the big three that I see, when I'm talking to our clients. Maybe we can just go through them a little bit. So, when you think about Finance, or the CFO owning BI? What does that look like typically?
Kate Eberle: 2:25
Yeah, I think it's a pretty natural pairing, to have BI with the finance shop. And you think about your Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, a lot of those analysts who are working in Excel sheets every day, so it makes sense that you'd have the CFO really owning a lot of that responsibility. They want to track towards the budget of the company, make sure that you're making good progress against your goals for the year, the team really understands how you calculate metrics, you do a lot of those sums in Excel, a lot of those functions, pretty technically savvy, at least in that particular software package. And there's just really a good understanding of how you're connecting metrics to business outcomes versus just driving for operations.
Brick Thompson: 3:03
Yeah, that makes sense. So it sounds like pros are, they usually have a good overall view of the company, and understanding maybe how the different pieces play together. And often good instincts just, for me, I've noticed really good instincts around data quality, you know, an extra care for that. And then maybe even around measure and KPI governance. So they're gonna really care that these measures and KPIs that we're using across the company line up with each other.
Kate Eberle: 3:34
Yeah, that's exactly right. I think the other areas, they acutely feel the pain of how long it takes to put together some of these analytics. If you've got one analyst responsible for month end, and it takes two weeks, every month, they understand really the power of getting something on a daily basis.
Brick Thompson: 3:52
Yeah, the value of of just getting that automated. You know, one thing I have seen that can be a con to having BI in Finance is sometimes that group can be so focused on financial measures that they deprioritize operational measures, maybe to the detriment of the company, in terms of BI. Have you seen that?
Kate Eberle: 4:14
Yeah, absolutely. I think they have such clarity and what they need as far as it relates to reporting up to the CEO, to the Board, to their private equity sponsors, that when it comes to the next level of, "Well, okay, how are we going to optimize our process? How are we going to try and get more from what we're doing right now?" That's where the effort can generally run out of a bit of steam, particularly as you're trying to pull in other data sources and get even more visibility.
Brick Thompson: 4:39
Yeah, it's hard. I mean, without good financial reporting the rest of it. I'm not gonna say it doesn't matter, but you need to know how you're actually doing financially to keep the company running well, and your board is demanding it and if your PE owned, you know, your PE board members need you to have that. But you're right if you're not focusing on operational, you know, you may be missing a huge opportunity to actually improve those financial outcomes.
Kate Eberle: 5:06
Yeah, yeah, I think it starts to tie into that next area of the CIO/CTO. If the CFO is completely focused on finance, they're really looking at their ERP, whatever their revenue or profit may look like. The next shop we typically see own BI is the CIO/CTO, because it's technology. You're looking at source systems, you're looking at the actual visualization tool that you're going to wear on top of it. So it just makes natural sense that they would own that responsibility.
Brick Thompson: 5:36
It is. I think it often ends up there, even when it's maybe not optimal that it's there. Often it is optimal for it to be there, but there can be some downsides to that, too. I think you're right, though, typically the CIO, CIO or CTO or head of IT, you know, they've got experience with the systems that drive the BI, so the underlying architecture and infrastructure. They also have easy access to technical resources, usually, so they can direct work maybe more easily say, than, you know, someone who's not in the IT department who wants to get something done. So let's say even the CFO is going through to the CIO to get things done, for example, can be more challenging than just having that direct line. So it's definitely a pro, I think, often. I think also CIOs typically have good conceptual understanding, at least sometimes very technical understanding, but at least really strong conceptual understanding of the underlying architectures, and foundational stuff, so they can make good decisions about it, and can really drive that in the right direction.
Kate Eberle: 6:47
Yeah, I think the other component there is they really have a pulse on what the company needs from a security perspective. Whether that's housing all of your infrastructure in the cloud on premises, or what you're going to need as as it relates to Row Level Security, making sure certain people only have access to certain things. And then also just how you're going to position yourself. So...
Brick Thompson: 7:08
I think I have seen actually CIOs also who are very plugged into the business. And so they've got that technical experience, as well as the business experience, I can think of one particular CIO and one of our customers, he was very knowledgeable about BI and had a lot of deep experience in BI. And so as we were getting started with this client, he was able to actually drive a lot of reporting requirements. In this case, specifically in the sales area of the company, while other executives in the company, were still sort of trying to get aligned around what we were doing with BI and how it was going to work, and so on. And by doing that, he really kickstarted it for this company. He was able to produce some really impactful reports that allowed them to make decisions, and drive behaviors, and do all the things they wanted to do. And it really sort of set the tone and the standard. And so other executives were able to engage well, so that was sort of a best case scenario of a CIO that had all the technical chops, plus all the business chops, and the BI experience. So that was a great one. Yeah, what "cons" can you think of for this, for BI sort of residing in the CIOs area?
Kate Eberle: 8:25
You I think everything you described in that ideal scenario, you can pretty quickly see where you might go down a rabbit hole. If you're too committed and too focused on performance of other technical priorities in the organization, you're making the move to a big ERP, you're constantly battling and firefighting, when it comes to the actual IT infrastructure of your organization, it's pretty easy to see that your BI priority would quickly be overcome by other areas. So I think maintaining that business and strategic lens in the CIO role is absolutely critical to make sure that you're rolling out BI, and then you're actually realizing the value there.
Brick Thompson: 9:02
Completely agree with that. So you really need a CIO, who is truly thinking at the strategic level and is at the table with, you know, the other heads of the departments in the company.
Kate Eberle: 9:13
Brick Thompson: 9:14
Well, why don't we move on to, I think you mentioned the third one that you most commonly see is the COO. Tell me about that.
Kate Eberle: 9:21
Yeah, you know, the COO seat is very much responsible for the core of the business. They have the, I think, the most tie to really executing against strategy, and making sure that the company is, you know, optimizing their margins. So it makes a lot of sense that they would own BI in the sense that if you can get visibility into how the actual machine is running, they have a really a huge interest in making sure that that happens in a timely manner. I think the other component of the COO shop is that you're really looking to automate some of those processes. You know the pain of trying to get field reps out, collecting data, inputting the same thing consistently every day, so that you can come back and actually do some analysis around where you can be more efficient in the future.
Brick Thompson: 10:02
Yeah, I agree with all of that. My experience is that the COO is often the person that can mobilize and really kind of make things happen. Almost always has really good view of execution strategy. Every once in a while I find a COO who is not as well connected to the financial side. And so you need the CFO to help there. But often, they're just as plugged into that. And I think an advantage of having the COO own BI is they really understand and are thinking about the different operational areas of the business, and can help prioritize where to put the BI efforts to get the most ROI.
Kate Eberle: 10:42
Yeah. I think as we're looking at the the cons of having the COO own BI (I think you're starting to detect a theme here), if that particular seat is solely focused on their area of the business and isn't operating at that strategic level, thinking about the ways that BI can affect sales, can affect revenue, can affect financials, then you're gonna see just a diminishing of that investment versus what it could be if you're operating at the strategic level.
Brick Thompson: 11:09
Yeah, it's sort of the same across all three of these examples, isn't it? Ideally, you have someone that can put on the different hats, as they're thinking about this.
Kate Eberle: 11:19
Yeah, it's still being a specialist in their area, but a little bit more global, when it comes to what business intelligence can accomplish for them.
Brick Thompson: 11:26
Yeah. Okay, well, that's good. You know, I've definitely seen BI be owed even by someone else. Sometimes I've seen it owned by someone who's not sort of at the senior executive level. That can work, but I don't think it's optimal. Because often, then the effort won't get as as high or as much attention as it probably should. It can be harder to deal with the budgeting, it can be harder to change directions. I see those folks, not always, but sometimes those folks will end up more in almost an "order taking" mode from the senior team, which makes it hard for them then to be really strategic about how to proceed. So not saying it doesn't work. But ideally, you have sponsorship and stakeholders that are at the senior most level, I think.
Kate Eberle: 12:16
Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head there as it relates to the sponsorship component. So certainly, you're not going to have your CIO, your CFO, anyone at the C-suite level actually running and turning the wrenches and making sure people are giving you the requirements that you need for a report. But you just have to have one of those individuals at the table who's really making sure that you're getting the budget, the time, and attention that an investment like this requires,
Brick Thompson: 12:41
Yeah. Okay. So, if you were gonna wrap this up with a couple of thoughts. What's your ideal situation, as you're working with one of our clients?
Kate Eberle: 12:54
You know, at the end of the day, I think, who owns it from that sponsorship level doesn't actually matter all that much. What I'm the most interested in as we're starting to talk to new clients is whether or not they have that
next level down: 13:06
their data mobilizers. So that's an individual at the Director level, Vice President level, who has the blessing of that executive seat, but has the the wherewithal and gumption to get the job done. So you know, I'm not going in specifically grading to say, well, the CEO or shop is responsible for BI, I don't think that's going to be a good fit. But so long as they've got that individual with buy-in from the top, who I think is motivated, understands the value of BI, is willing to advocate not just stop work, when they get a little bit of pushback from someone on the team, but be relentless in pursuit of rolling out the effort, and has that ability to be persuasive, get folks on to their side, and woo individuals, and build consensus when they're encountering those obstacles. I think that's really who I'm looking for, and once I know that there's one executive that really has the vision.
Brick Thompson: 13:58
Yeah, I love that. I think what I'm hearing is, so one of these executives ideally owns it and is sort of the executive champion, but they've got some really strong number two under them that is really passionate about this. And is a good persuader, maybe a good project manager. I mean, you called it "a mobilizer" who is really going to mobilize this project.
Kate Eberle: 14:20
Yeah. Who's empowered with the budget and authority to get the job done.
Brick Thompson: 14:24
All right. Yeah, that makes sense to me. All right. Well, I think we're coming to the end of our time.
Kate Eberle: 14:31
Brick Thompson: 14:31
Good job. It's been fun sitting here with you.
Kate Eberle: 14:33
Same. Thanks, Brick.
Brick Thompson: 14:35
Would you do it again?
Kate Eberle: 14:36
You know, I think I'll come back, if you ask me.
Brick Thompson: 14:38
Alright, good. Well we'll think of something for some for next week then. Thanks, Kate.
Kate Eberle: 14:43