Data Innovator Spotlight - Top 6 Characteristics of Data Innovators


We live in a data world, where data innovators are the modern-day explorers.  They are in demand in Global 2000 companies because they help solve problems caused by data issues. And, they uncover monetization opportunities with the right data.

Data innovators support digital and customer experience transformations. They work on important and interesting initiatives like how to use customer data to create connected customer experiences and to drive hyper-personalization at scale. Data innovators investigate how to power real-time operations across digital and human touchpoints at scale, and to simplify compliance and consent management at scale.

To be a data innovator you don’t need to have “data” in your title. Anyone can become a data innovator, as long as you’re good at identifying problems that stem from data issues or come up with ideas on how better data usage could drive more growth for your business.

At Reltio, we are fortunate to work with some of the world’s best data innovators. We know what it takes to be a successful data innovator. In the first installment of our Data Innovator Spotlight series, we examine what makes an effective data innovator. In our experience, the most effective ones have these six characteristics:

1. Speak the language of business

Data innovators have a seat at the table in meetings where transformation discussions happen. They share their point-of-view about the strategic use of data in their company’s transformation. Well versed in speaking to business leaders, data innovators know how to secure leadership buy-in and investment by connecting the dots between data initiatives and business value. They know how their work impacts the company’s transformation and KPIs. In this Insurance Business article, Miguel Baptista, Chief Digital Officer at Hyperion X, the technology division of Hyperion Insurance Group, demonstrates how he speaks the language of business.

Some of the transformations our data innovator customers are powering include

2. Focus on improving business outcomes

Some data leaders and professionals have focused on improving the quality of data, but unless that effort is tied to improved business outcomes, it was a waste of time. Other data leaders have tried to “boil the ocean” by tackling multi-year projects and spent multi-millions of dollars without delivering any business value. For more on this topic, check out this blog, Say Goodbye to Legacy MDM, Say Hello to Connected Customer Data.

Successful data innovators focus on improving data for better business outcomes. They build a roadmap focused on business value milestones and execute in a manageable way using a phased approach with quick wins that show business value. Shamim Mohammad, SVP, CIO/CTO, CarMax who just received the prestigious 2020 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award for delivering exemplary levels of business value through the innovative use of IT.

3. Be a change agent

Data innovators are passionate about their mission to put data at the heart of transformation, to build a data-driven culture and to drive behavior change. Being able to implement technology is not enough. Data innovators get people on board to use it. They are confident and have good communication skills so they can drive understanding, adoption and behavior change.

“Changing the culture of the organization means changing the hearts and minds of individual employees,” says Jorgen Heizenberg, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “As a data-driven culture is more a factor of influence than of control, spread the word about how data and analytics can help drive business results across business units. Data and analytics is not a technology implementation — it is a change management initiative.”

The “best of the best” data innovators we work with help co-workers reimagine what’s possible when they understand their business and their customers better through the better use of data. Check out this CIO Review article from Omer Iqbal, SVP of Global Architecture, Digital Center of Excellence at Shiseido.

4. Love to problem solve

Innovators excel at identifying problems that stem from data issues and understanding the root cause of those issues. They are also good at uncovering opportunities that can be monetized with the right data. Ayman Taha, CIO at TruGreen is an award-winning CIO and a good example of a leader who has solved business problems with the innovative use of data across industries from hospitality to home services.

Here are some questions that data innovators ask:

  • Which data is commonly used and shared across multiple teams and what are each team’s specific data requirements to do their jobs effectively?
  • Where does the data come from? Is it internal, 3rd party, or collected through call center, web, chat, SMS, mobile, social channels or devices?
  • Do they currently have easy access to that data?
  • How “fresh” is the data they are using? Do the need access to real-time data?
  • Are there issues with that data: inconsistent, inaccurate, incomplete, or disconnected?
  • How much time is wasted fixing the data? Is there a process to request changes to the data based on new information?
  • Would access to any new types of data make them more effective or efficient?
  • What KPIs would be impacted if they had access to that data?
  • What is the cost of providing that data?
  • If we plan to collect new data, what business purpose will it serve?
  • How will this new or corrected data contribute to the financial top or bottom line?

5. Think holistically

Data innovators have a mandate to think beyond departments and take an enterprise-wide approach. Their work benefits the whole company, across business units, brands, functions, and channels. While at the same time, they know they need to have the flexibility to meet specific functional requirements for data.

For example, the marketing team may need different customer profile attributes than the store associates. The loyalty team may need different customer profile attributes than the compliance team. The data science and analytics team may need different customer profile attributes than the finance team.

Data innovators don’t believe in silos. They take a data-first approach and drive multiple outcomes with the same data so that one solution powers multiple outcomes (e.g. revenue growth, compliance and connected customer experiences). Joanna Walker, Global MDM Architect at AstraZeneca is a great example of a data innovator who thinks holistically.

6. Responsive to changing needs

Data innovators know that business requirements change and sometimes quickly. Their business stakeholders need them to quickly pivot to meet data requirements in good times and bad.

Recently, with the global pandemic spreading across the world, they’ve had to meet the data requirements of shifting their business to digital channels and fast. A great example of a leader who is responsive to changing business needs is Sarah Miller, CIO of Neiman Marcus Group, who won the RIS News CIO of the Year award for leading a cloud first transformation to become a nimble and personalized luxury retailer.

Data innovators can’t be held back by data solutions that are slow, rigid and constrained. Because data innovators need to be responsive, they expect their data management platforms to be responsive too. To learn more about what "responsive data management" means, check out this blog, A Responsive Data Strategy is Critical Now More Than Ever.

Regulations also drive changing requirements. Data innovators help their companies simplify compliance with existing privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA and future privacy laws using a centralized, enterprise-wide approach across multiple brands and channels. Respecting privacy laws isn’t just about being in compliance with the law, in the experience economy, it’s also about serving, protecting and retaining your customers. To learn more about this, check out this Forbes article by Manish Sood, our CEO, about “Doing well by doing the right thing”.

Learn about our exclusive offer and see if you qualify: Get a Fast Start to a More Responsive Data Strategy in As Few As 90 Days.

Check back for our first Data Innovator Spotlight.


6 Characteristics Of Data Innovators



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