Spend even five minutes talking to Mohammed Aaser about data and technology and one word will come out of his mouth more than any other: magical.
Given just how long Domo’s new chief data officer has had an interest in those two topics, it makes perfect sense. When his peers in middle school were playing video games, Aaser was building websites and setting up web analytics. His life has revolved around data and technology ever since.
“What I’ve enjoyed most about the space is that there’s constant learning,” said Aaser, who holds a Master’s degree from Harvard Business School and a resume long in data-related roles. He was vice president of marketing strategy and analytics at Ameriprise and, most recently, chief data officer at McKinsey & Co.
“There are so many ways you can create solutions with data and tech,” he continued. “It’s just magical the kind of impact you can end up having. You can unlock things that were previously thought to be unsolvable. I get a rush out of that.”
I interviewed Aaser and found out what compelled him to join Domo, what he’s focusing his attention on, and what he thinks the chief data officer (CDO) of the future will look like.
Q: You’ve got no shortage of knowledge about data and what it can do. Was there a particular moment, though, where it made you stop and think, “Wow, the impact it just had right there was incredible.”
A: I think that all the time! The one moment that comes to mind was when I was working for a company that hadn’t yet used all the data that was at its disposal—like service data and digital data, and even external data such as population, income, and job growth data. Much of this data had never been integrated. But once it was, you could see interactions between a customer’s financial transactions, use of apps, service issues, engagement with their advisor, and so on.
There were many skeptics at first, believing that the data would not amount to much. It ended up being able to predict both customer opportunities and retention risk. It had a meaningful impact on the bottom line of the company, and we were able to go to the rest of the field—the 10,000 financial advisors—and get it in their hands … and get them to think through what they could do differently. One of the big efforts was translating the outputs of a machine learning model into a simple language and alerts that an advisor could act on. The impact was huge; it spawned an entire data transformation of the organization.
Q: Domo prides itself on how it’s able to help organizations leverage all types of data. Is that what most drew you to the company? Or was there another aspect?
A: The Domo product and the team were the most important parts of my decision. It’s challenging to build out solutions with data, because most of the time you have to cobble together so many different tools. What was so appealing about Domo was that I could enable business users—from consultants to people who are just interested in solving problems—with it. I could give them datasets, and they could come up with analysis, insights, and solutions—and then build them out into full-functioning data apps.
That’s what I found most magical about the Domo platform—that friction in getting insights from data is reduced significantly. There is scalability. You can share data inside or outside your organization with appropriate permissions and auditing. You can create a governed ecosystem of data and insights within your organization. It has the capabilities you need to utilize data effectively. And it works with the data investments you’ve already made.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about your role at Domo, as CDO. What will you be focused on, and what are your goals, both near-term and long-term?
A: There are a few areas that I’m focused on. One is around helping customers see the value in Domo, which entails working with our customers to outline what are the different data apps that they can build that would drive value? How can we help them identify that value? And how does Domo fit into the ecosystem of other tools that they have—and give them greater opportunities to succeed with everything they’ve got?
Another area I’m focused on is developing data apps that can showcase what’s possible in Domo. My strong inclination is to start building data apps from the external data universe. We’re building one right now for internal use that we can also take to customers. We call it Next Generation Customer Intelligence. It’s all about understanding where companies stand as far as the tech tools they use, the kind of talent they possess, and the personas they employ—to determine which of those companies are most likely to adopt new technologies. There are several other apps we are starting to explore, as well.
Q: Last question then—and forgive me if you get asked this a lot: What does the CDO of the future look like to you?
A: People do ask me that a lot. I think CDOs have two jobs. The first is to be the data entrepreneur of the company. They should be thinking about what the value-capture opportunities are, and how they can grow the business. People talk about data monetization. Data monetization starts at home, if you will. It starts with, “Hey, how do I use my data to improve my own business?” From there you can begin to create other opportunities, like with your customers, and selling data, and so on.
The second job is to build a data culture across the organization. It sounds fluffy, but it matters. Most organizations have a very small set of practitioners dedicated to data—about 2-3% of the workforce—but the whole organization needs to use data. CDOs should be building data communities within organizations, supporting adoption of self-service analytics capabilities, and making it easy for any person to find and use data. Moreover, they should have and leverage metrics around adoption and use.