Get to know the CDO

At the end of 2016, there were around 2,500 Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) in leading global businesses. A further 650 are expected to be appointed through 2017 and Gartner predicts that by 2019, 90% of large organisations will have a CDO. More importantly, there is a sense that the CDO is gaining in influence; Business Review Europe highlighted the growing role of the CDO as one of three key business trends to watch this year. No surprise, perhaps, after 2016 ended with a flurry of high-profile CDO appointments, from RSA to Hearst Magazines to Coca-Cola, to the biggest apple of all – CDO of NYC.

But what exactly is a Chief Digital Officer? Where have they come from? What do they do? And why are they good to know?

We recently did some digging into this new breed of digital expert for a new report, available for download here Know Your CDO. But if you want a quick insight, below are some of the key findings – essential reading if you’re considering employing a CDO in your organisation and intriguing reading if you’re already in the post!

What does a CDO do? The CDO is generally associated with leading digital transformation. But just as the transformation vision varies from one organisation to the next, so does the CDO’s remit.

Our research identified three typical roles:

The visionary – tasked with identifying and delivering digital innovations that transform the business and even the business model. That might mean finding new digital routes to simplify existing interactions – or guiding the development of entirely new products or services based on emerging technologies.

The customer champion – a CDO tasked with bringing the business up to speed with customer needs and demands across an ever-growing range of channels. Expected to enhance the customer experience and provide a customer focus and perspective. Typically a ‘digital native’ with an intuitive understanding of key social channels, the customer champion overlaps strongly with the CMO. In one high-profile recent move, mobile operator Three promoted its CMO to CDO – and emphasised the role was a promotion, with broader scope and responsibilities.

The problem solver – typically found in organisations that know where they want to get to, but need someone to make it happen. The problem solver’s skillset ranges from management and delivery to technical knowledge, business insight and the ability to lead and motivate a team through complex change programmes. Key relationships will be with the COO, CIO and CTO – especially in a B2B environment.

What sort of organisations have a CDO? Leading the way is the communications, media and entertainment sector, in which 13% of businesses have a CDO – reflecting their need to drive revenues from digital content. CDOs are also well represented in consumer-facing businesses, i.e. food and drink, retail, travel and tourism and retail banking sectors. There are fewer to be found in sectors such as technology, utilities and automotive – arguably industries where some of the key responsibilities of a CDO are already distributed between the leadership team. However, some high-profile appointments indicate this is changing: both Volvo and GE Energy added a CDO late last year.

Where have they all come from? Almost no one arrives as an experienced CDO; the role hasn’t been established long enough. Some come from an IT background, others from marketing (particularly digital marketing) or strategy. Initially, many were internal promotions – bringing dynamic and driven younger leaders to the top table. Increasingly, however, CDO roles are being advertised externally.

What does success look like for the CDO? Just as the roles and responsibilities of CDOs differ, so do the measures of success. Short-term, they might be challenged on sales growth, improved efficiency and CSat; in the longer term, it will be whether they can help their employer acquire a reputation as a “digital business.”

What do they need to succeed? Many CDOs will spend as much time and effort fighting for resources and challenging established ways of working as they will on actual implementation. That means they need the tenacity and charisma to win over boardroom colleagues whose territory they are encroaching on, to get a say in key decisions and to build a dedicated team.

Earmarked as potential leaders at a young age, many CDOs have reached senior levels relatively early in their career. So they are likely to be highly driven and ambitious, focused on carving out a clear function, driving and shaping business transformation– not just a subsidiary to IT or marketing. Executive search company Spencer Stuart has suggested that the obvious next step on the ladder for CDO is the CEO’s role.

Is there a CDO in your organisation? Are you a CDO? Would you like to be? Help us create a picture of the digitally transformed business and let us know. Meanwhile, for a deeper insight into a CDO’s world and how you can benefit, read this executive summary – Know Your CDO

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