Who needs a Chief Digital Officer?


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chief digital officer cool 600When I recently attended Oracle Open World one of the recurring discussions was the potential emergence of a new role at the CxO level in order to cope with the rapidly changing expectations and technology innovations that are becoming key to doing business in today’s marketplace.

This role was commonly dubbed the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). The role is often described as somewhere between the CIO (Chief Information Officer) and the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) in that it requires both an understanding of marketing and technology in order to convert traditional analog businesses to “new” digital ones.

This idea is not new, in fact similar roles were discussed and created when Internet eCommerce first emerged but most firms reasonably quickly realised that traditional sales, service and support functions that already existed could actually be re-aligned to service that need.

Some CDO roles do already exist even in here Australia. However, some argue that this may only be a transitional role and others that it replaces the current CIO role with one encompassing a wider skill set.

Personally I think the need for a CDO may depend on what type of organisation you are, if you are an internet start up this role likely exists perhaps with a different title but the skills may also be present in the CEO or founder. A similar argument could be applied to those organisations who have already successfully embraced digital transformation of their products and services.

So the question of whether or not to employ a CDO is really only relevant if you are a traditional business trying to embrace the digital challenge. In this case it is my opinion that introducing a CDO could actually be counter productive.

My reasoning goes like this:

1. Embracing digital is a complex problem which requires cooperation across the whole organisation not just the domain of a single officer or division
2. The appointment of a CDO could become quite political as it crosses traditional domains of the CMO and CIO
3. The candidates for the role need to be able to not only have significant vision but also the ability to drive transformation both of which are more commonly found in a CEO.

It is clear that organisations need to transform themselves for the current environment and that the traditional role of the CIO is changing. My observation is that the most forward thinking companies have already started the change to make the CIO and CMO work closer together. This was clearly demonstrated by the presentation made last week by the CIO and CMO of Tesco at Oracle Open World 2013, who clearly were closely aligned and working together to take their organisation forward. You can view their presentation here from approximately 17 minutes in.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Julian Donohue
Julian leads the program and project management discipline at The Customer Experience Company, managing some of the most complex projects we are involved in and providing leadership to our staff in the practices of project management. Julian has a track record in establishing and managing teams, project managers and program offices. His industry experience includes retail banking and insurance.


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