William & Mary announced this fall that Barbara O. Forth would become the university’s inaugural Chief Data Officer. The newly formed position within Information Technology aims to improve organizational decision-making and excellence through a focus on literacy, governance, and management across the entire university.
An accomplished information management leader who has delivered a wide range of IT solutions, Forth brings nearly three decades of experience and expertise in data management, with a focus on business intelligence and analytics, database technology research, business and architecture and large-scale operations management. In her new role, Forth is responsible for organizing efforts to develop and maintain data in a manner that promotes the routine use of analytics to inform institutional strategy and drive innovation. She also provides oversight to the Institutional Research and Business Intelligence teams in IT.
“We are excited to welcome Barbara to lead our effort to enhance the university’s data-driven culture and capabilities,” said William & Mary Chief Information Officer Ed Aractingi. “Her expertise in governance and management and her deep understanding of systems, processes, uses and dissemination are of great benefit to the university.”
According to Forth, her specialty is building the “datability” of organizations. As CDO, her approach is to clearly understand the university’s goals and targets, align the right strategies and build organizational readiness and underlying management capabilities. Her sincere passion for data comes from the many executive and consulting roles she has held at major financial institutions such as Fidelity Investments, Capital Group, Experian Consumer Services and General Electric.
“Barbara’s industry knowledge and approach to developing strategies provide an opportunity for William & Mary to think differently about how our data assets benefit us, especially as we embark on university-wide strategic planning,” said Aractingi.
As CDO, Forth will join stakeholders from diverse data silos on campus in an ongoing process to ensure high quality is available for people at all levels of the W&M community. “By empowering our community with the data they need to be successful, they will become more comfortable asking data-related questions,” says Forth.
One of Forth’s many objectives is to expand W&M’s self-service analytic capabilities and introduce new technologies (like external data, machine language and artificial intelligence) that will expand the W&M community’s shared learnings. “By working together, we can turn W&M’s data into an asset and manage it accordingly,” she says. Forth is focused on various major initiatives on campus, including building data communities of interest, as well as establishing a governance operating model and documenting W&M concepts.
“This new role was created to be a catalyst that convenes stakeholders from across campus to coordinate an effective organizational data profile,” said Deputy Chief Information Officer Bernadette Kenney. “Barbara has already begun working directly with university leadership, faculty and staff to start designing and implementing an innovative strategy for the entire university.”
Originally from upstate New York, Forth is a graduate of Syracuse University, but admits that W&M was always her top choice. “It took me 40 years, but I finally made it to William & Mary,” she laughs. All joking aside, Forth says this role appealed to her because of the university’s culture of cooperation and passion for the success of W&M students and clear goal to make data an asset. “This type of digital transformation is 10% technology and 90% alignment of people, process and data,” she explains. “Making data an asset at William & Mary will be challenging but possible because of the special culture and the full support of university leadership.”
Prior to starting her new role at W&M, Forth owned her own data strategy consulting firm and she remains a sought-after speaker at universities and corporations across the United States and in Canada.