Over the summer there has been an increasing number of references to a new technology centric role in the IT press, the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). I’ve come across a few heated debates on Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) forums where people carrying either (or both) of those role titles are discussing whether actually they should become a CDO instead or if it is a new name for the Chief Marketing Officer. It certainly risks seeing a large number of “chiefs” but is there a meaningful distinction being signaled by the emerging new role title? In an interesting article on the CIO website, “Chief Digital Officer – here to stay or flash in the pan?“, one CDO argues that CIOs and CTOs “don’t focus on the core business” and tend to “look at technology for technology’s sake” which would certainly raise the hackles of people in those roles! Gartner predict that by 2015 some 25% of companies will have a CDO in post; there is even now a Chief Digital Officer Club.
What I think is going on with the CDO title is that it is signalling a focus on the external market and the how your company builds and leverages its digital assets for competitive advantage. There have been people carrying the titles of CIO and CTO in many companies that have had that external focus and been divorced from the internal IT operations and service delivery. However, I think the use of the “digital” word recognises that this new role is also in the traditional Chief Marketing Office territory too and declares that remit legitimate. There has been much debate over recent years of the growing overlap in the era of cloud computing and social media of the IT and Marketing landscapes, with a clear convergence point where there is focus on embracing the ever evolving and growing digital world. Indeed this focus on the digital world and economy was recently clearly highlighted by a global survey report from McKinsey entitled Bullish On Digital which is well worth a read.
Ultimately what is important is that there is someone in a company ensuring that it is optimally positioned to create competitive advantage from technology and equipped compete in the digital world whatever that means specific to its business sector. This seems to me to be an evolution of the old debate about how to ensure a strong focus on strategic competitive advantage from technology as well as on gain the scale and cost benefits available from technological operational excellence. I certainly held CIO and CTO titled roles where that strategic market facing aspects was my core objective from the CEO, sometimes including operational IT delivery but increasingly over recent years excluding it.
CDO is another perspective on the debates of recent years that you might summarise as “what type of CIO are you then” (on which I have mused on previously here) and whether the “T” in CTO is for technology or transformation. Clearly what is really key is the value the role holder regardless of title brings to their company and how they can help it to maximise the value gained from technology in the digital age.
If a new title can help deliver on that promise as the traditional IT and Marketing landscape converge then fantastic. As long as you deliver I suspect you can probably pick any name you fancy; well to a degree as I suspect that the days of deciding to be called the Chief Wizard are probably gone.
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