Affiliated with:

Barbara O. Forth

Barbara O. Forth

Chief Data Officer | Data Governance Program Leader | IT Executive | Data Strategy | Speaker

Barbara O. Forth is the inaugural Chief Data Officer at William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. As CDO, she is leading the deployment of analytics, data governance and management infrastructure to generate insights to be used to improve organizational decision-making and excellence.

Forth specializes in building the “Datability” of organizations. Her approach is to clearly understand business goals and targets, and align the right data strategies while building organizational readiness and underlying data management capabilities.

Forth’s passion for data comes from extensive data management experience where she’s held numerous executive and consulting roles at major financial institutions such as Fidelity Investments, Capital Group, Experian Consumer Services and General Electric.

What attracted you to data management or IT, and why did you choose to pursue this career?

Puzzles – I always enjoyed playing board games, cards, and puzzles as a child. During an internship at Syracuse University for a Syraco, I found great satisfaction in automating a paper-based customer inventory with a user-friendly system. I chose to pursue IT over other marketing opportunities because the field is growing and with IT skills, I can always switch in the future. I joined GE on a two-year IT Training Program (ISMP). I worked with a database team, and I enjoyed collecting requirements, translating them into data structures, building, and seeing how delivered solutions improved the business. I have been on a steep learning curve that continues to this day, but that’s what I enjoy most – solving puzzles.

What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far, and why has it been important to your career?

I have had many memorable accomplishments but the ones I am the proudest of are those that seemed impossible to accomplish in the beginning, but through amazing teamwork and empowering leadership, success was achieved in unpredictable ways. These few programs had key commonalities: clear goals, support, trust, and team empowerment to juggle trade-offs of quality, cost, and delivery dates.

I am also very active in mentoring and networking programs, and that has given me a great sense of accomplishment. I started back in the early 1990’s as a mentor as part of the Fidelity IT’s mentorship program. I am still in touch with my mentees and my own mentors, and we have helped one another throughout our careers.   

What are the two or three biggest challenges you face as a data management professional / CDO and how can we address them?

The biggest challenge as a data management professional / CDO is to use and create language that connects and brings meaning. To do this, one has to test language and concepts in conversations to see what resonates and use what works, and not rely on industry jargon.  The second is to keep efforts focused on the most important business goals and outcomes. I make a point of listing out organizational goals and ensuring that my DM/DG activities are supporting each one.

How do you see data management / the role of the CDO / IT changing in the next 2 – 3 years?

I see the role of the CDO expanding based on organizational goals and being very different across organizations. A keen focus will be on data literacy, ethics, efficiency and effectiveness through practical delivery. The amount of amazing new capabilities is growing exponentially as are the AI/ML powered data management solutions. Data governance will become more automated and demand for self-service analytics will continue to grow.

Do you have any planned next steps for your career?

I just arrived at W&M this fall, and I have a great deal to learn and build in my CDO role. I plan to be very active in the W&M community of students, faculty, and staff as well as industry groups. I also look forward to speaking engagements and writing.

What is the single best piece of advice you have received in your data management / IT career so far?  Why has it been so important to you?

When I started at GE as a programmer, I had very little practical coding experience. I was told by my boss, “No one can stop you from learning if you are curious. Seek out others who are experts, are thankful and generous with their time.” It’s a simple idea, and it works. I try to be that person for others.

Can you share something about yourself as a person that people wouldn’t know about you?

I am an avid gardener and love roses and succulents, especially the ones that grow unexpected shoots of colorful flowers on which hummingbirds love to feed. 

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