This CEO Says: Bring on the Data

David Williams is CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services and a self-descibed data wonk. Here he describes his use of data and social media and offers advice to CIOs.

David Williams is CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services and a self-descibed data wonk. Here he talks about about data, social and CIOs.

How is technology changing Deloitte Financial Advisory Services as a business?

We're using social media to move from an organization where knowledge is dispersed in people's heads to one where it's enterprise knowledge. We're now thoroughly reliant on data: It gives us insights about our client base, it's part of how we deliver services, and it drives a fair number of the decisions I make every day.

Advances in technology require innovation and execution. How do you create a culture that allows for both?

If our people see a new way to serve a client, we give them money to innovate. Maybe they'll dig a dry hole, or maybe they'll deliver significant value.

But when we keep throwing a little more money at an idea, we sometimes look back and realize we should have invested in significant execution processes up front. Our strategy is to encourage people to innovate and know when that innovation is ready so we can drive it throughout the enterprise.

What advice can you give CIOs about educating their CEOs on the value of technology?

I was not always as appreciative of technology as I am now. Our CIO took us on a journey to show us that a bit of data can lead to better outcomes. That's when the CEO becomes addicted. If you can get a foot in the door and help a CEO understand that new technology can help with a specific business challenge, then the next step is the next project, and then it starts to take hold. That's the trick when dealing with a CEO: baby steps and good results.

How has technology affected your leadership style?

Some people call me a "data wonk" these days, since I spend a great deal of time analyzing data. Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying he makes big acquisition decisions based on analysis of "the right data," certainly less than all the data that's available. Why? Given the proliferation of technology, I can have all the data I want at my fingertips--why not use all of it? Maybe I'm overly reliant on data, but the fact that I can open a database and see every hour what we've charged every client this year is very powerful to me.

Do you communicate with your organization differently through technology? 

We use Yammer to maintain a level of connection with the staff, but we use different communication tools to deliver critical information. I try to post something relevant once a week to the entire firm. Social media has really enlightened me about what people want to hear.

What is an example of that?

I used to think it was extremely important to communicate financial information about the business. But I learned through Yammer that people have that information. From me, they want an interpretation of that information and where I'm taking the business. That's much more important than whether we're at plan.

What technology is personally most exciting to you?

I have always found it a little difficult to make connections with new people. So the idea that I can create a LinkedIn profile, which alone can drive new connections, is very exciting. Technology allows me to network while I sleep.

Martha Heller is president of the executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates and author of The CIO Paradox. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.

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