Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Dow

Rethinking data analytics as a digital-first driver at Dow

Aug 11, 20235 mins
Data Management

On the road from data to business intelligence, Dow discovered a good first step is not only looking at where information might be used but how it can be woven into the cultural fabric of the company.

Dow Michigan headquarters
Credit: Dow

In today’s digital world, the ability to make data-driven decisions and develop strategies that are based on data analytics is critical to success in every industry. Beyond decision-making, accurate and relevant data analytics can provide greater insights into target markets, help improve operational efficiencies, and identify new products and service opportunities.

When I assumed the role of chief data and analytics officer at Dow, the challenge we faced was how can data and analytics (D&A) help fulfill the company’s ambition to be the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive, and sustainable materials science company in the world? This not only involves transforming data into a competitive advantage but rethinking how we use and distribute D&A across our business and functions. What was needed was a strategy that essentially weaves data into the fabric of our company to the extent it impacts how we work every day.

Developing our D&A strategy

The first step in this journey involved bringing our D&A teams under one roof in the first half of 2022. This team eventually became Enterprise D&A, with team members based around the world. To develop the strategy, we held discussions with external partners and interviewed Dow leaders to identify trends important to business success. Then we looked at where those trends align with key focus areas like customer engagement, accelerating innovation, market growth, reliability, sustainability, and the employee experience.

Our central task was to translate our findings into a strategy that creates the most value for our stakeholders: our customers, our employees, our shareholders, and our communities. We determined we needed to move to a hub-and-spoke model. To make this work and achieve our vision of transforming data into a competitive advantage, we would need to build a strong culture of collaboration around D&A and support it with talent development within our organization and across the company.

To get there, we are focusing on these five strategic themes:

1. Be a business enabler. If D&A is going to be a driver for business success for Dow, then we must align to key business drivers for the company — in particular, growth, sustainability, and productivity. In today’s challenging economy, D&A can play an enormous role in increasing efficiency and productivity and create the foundation for growth and increased market share. And, as always with Dow, we will do this while maintaining safety as our No. 1 priority. While it seems obvious that we would be “business-driven,” we are being very purposeful in aligning all our work to the most important objectives for the company.

2. Establish and support a data-driven culture. This theme is the most critical. As legendary management consultant Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture creates the foundation for a strategy to be successful. But as we all know, culture change can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to change culture across a global company. So, we’re focused on gaining the support of senior leaders to secure critical investment in D&A from their organizations. We’re also focusing on building D&A literacy across the company to help Dow people become familiar with basic terminology and to develop an understanding of D&A’s capacity to help solve problems.

3. Explore and embrace new ways of working. Shifting how we operate in D&A to a hub-and-spoke model will create the foundation for effective democratization. In this model, the centralized hub — Enterprise D&A — will provide the platform, security, and best practices, along with tracking and governance of data products. The spokes — Dow’s businesses and functions — will perform much of their own analytics and data science. They will do this with support from Enterprise D&A to various degrees, depending on the bench strength of their own capabilities.

We’re also looking at upskilling and certification under this theme. More and more of our employees are asking for formalized training certification, preferably from established tech companies.

4. Utilize next-gen technology tools. We need future-ready, scalable, and flexible data platforms. That starts with our Integrated Data Hub (IDH), built on Azure, which supports our hub-and-spoke model. The IDH will be a game-changing platform that allows us to make data available to data scientists and data analysts across the company.

Attached to this IDH is our first-ever enterprise-wide Data Catalog, which we will leverage to drive data ownership, better metadata, and more robust governance and tracking. Additionally, the catalog enables people to search and find the data they need to build their analytics models. We also want to provide the right analytics tools to enable data citizenship. Power BI is a great example.

5. Strive for trusted and unified data. While we want to enable data democratization, we also need to ensure that we protect our data assets. We need the right balance between security and accessibility. This also includes a focus on upfront data quality — a critical predecessor to effective automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

And as the focus on responsible AI continues to grow across the industry, we will need best practices and policies in place to ensure that the models we build don’t have built-in bias. The explosion of generative AI recently makes this focus on responsible AI even more critical — we must protect our employees and our customers, as well as our intellectual property.

One last point: Don’t discount the importance and influence of storytelling, which we found is critical in bringing D&A to life through use cases that move the discussion from conceptual to examples of how it is already helping us advance dimensions of our ambition — like serving our customers even better or advancing our sustainability goals. We’ve already achieved a level of buy-in that normally takes years.

Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Dow

Chris Bruman is the chief data and analytics officer at Dow, a multinational company with operations in 31 countries that serves customers in a wide range of markets.