The Case for the Chief Digital Officer – a New Entrant to the C-Suite

The Case for the Chief Digital Officer – a New Entrant to the C-Suite

Depending on what role or function you have, this post may either make you squirm uncomfortably or scream with delight. Change does that to people.

When business shifts happen, there comes a long enough period of time where smart people begin to say “I think we can manage this better”. That’s exactly what’s happening between the widening and important gap being created between the marketing function and the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the IT function and the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

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Top level executives and front-line staff are the first to admit that digital is not being managed well inside companies and things are falling through the cracks. Oftentimes, digital operations are lagging the expectations of their customers by 5 years (and in some laggard industries 10 years).

Digital in BtoB and BtoC environments is being managed by a wide variety of matrix solutions across a number of functions and the consensus is:

  • it’s not being lead or directed well, there is less accountability than there needs to be,
  • it is being used tactically and not as a fundamental driver of business value
  • it is not being used as a driver of new business models and step-change
  • it is not delivering on revenue generating solutions
  • it is leaving us open to market-disurpiting threats that aren’t on our radar.

And boards and CEOs realize it’s time to do something about this technology conundrum – witness the “what keeps CEOs up at night” rise in technology’s importance.

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The IBM study above shows that many things have stayed the same in their relative importance spectrum but technology has zoomed to the top. Smart organizations have started to dedicate executive level resources to the challenge. Enter the CDO – the Chief Digital Officer.

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At last count there were 2,834 of them on LinkedIn. Semantics of what we call the role aside, they are picking up the pieces from the often adversarial relationship between CMO and CIO.

Think about it – you won’t have two more different personalities on an executive team then these two – the CMO and the CIO. Their reward for good work, risk motivation, stakeholder audience and academic/professional backgrounds are radically different. Marketers are accused of chasing the latest and greatest without accounting for the downsides, financial accountabilities and cultural resistance. IT people are accused of maintaining operational excellence at the risk of using technologies unfriendly to the customer experience and practices unfriendly to employees. A mess is being left in the middle.

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As a result, the trend is leading to a role that reports straight into the CEO.

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So what does a Chief Digital Officer do? We have attempted to list the 18 things that CDOs could do to drive value into a business that currently are either: not being managed, being managed poorly or do not have accountability by other executives in the business.

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This chart below also gives you a sense of which industries are jumping this rising trend of CDO adoption first – the key takeaway is it is early days for nearly every industry:

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Before people start debating where these new business transformers should be coming from, in practice, it appears that there is wide range of starting points so far. Given the demands of the role and industry, this is the functional discipline where the CDOs are coming form:

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And directionally, there are four different sub-types of CDO role being created dependent on the nature of the business, the importance and strategic level expectations of the role, the external/internal focus of the role, the maturity level of digital inside the rest of the organization and capabilities that exist with other functions.

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However you construct the role, it does not appear to be going away anytime soon. The role of Chief Digital officer is predicted to be in 50% of the largest global companies by 2017 and 81% of the top digital organizations already centre “digital strategy” as an executive level accountability.

Change is coming executives, and it’s acronym is CDO.

The Impact Age – A Digital Timeline and The Sixth Stage of The Digital Era

The Impact Age – A Digital Timeline and The Sixth Stage of The Digital Era

Tim Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web 27 years ago. With the average age of first time moms hovering between 26 and 30 years in most developed countries, that’s about one generation in real-life terms.

Pause. Reflect. My lord, we have experienced a lot of change since then. A hilarious touchstone is this 1994 NBC Today segment on “What is the Internet?”. 

This nearly three-decade  “wrinkle in time” is overwhelming when you consider that digital has gone from a passing fancy that we watched with bemusement like Bryant Gumbel to a technology architecture that we are wholly and completely reliant on in 2016.

Chunking it out, you realize that every five-six years, the main reason we engage digitally changes. These shifts are  creating bigger ripples in how we live, work and play and are progressively turning us into a digital species. Here’s my forensics on the six changes that have already happened and our collective need to have us enter digital’s sixth era – The Impact Age:

Stage I – The Surfing Age (Mid ’90s) – represented by Yahoo, Netscape and Internet Explorer 

We were amazed things even worked in the dial up era, but for the first time we could access information, news and messages that used to require a library, a newspaper or letter mail.

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Stage II – The Commerce Age (Late ’90s) – represented by eBay, Google and Paypal

Business got connected to the internet and as frenzied capitalists, we started looking at how the web can make us money, which continues to both amaze and frustrate us today. Everybody needed a and rushed in with $125 billion of capital and web investment…until they didn’t.



Stage III – The Blogging and Posting Age (Early 2000s) – represented by Wikipedia, Craigslist and WordPress

The power is now in the every person’s hands as we learn how to generate content, arguments, transactions and our personal brands without a business or intermediary between us and the audience, culminating in this Time Person of The Year cover in 2006


Stage IV – The Sharing & Social Age (Late 2000s) – represented by Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube

Whether you are a college student, business executive, marketeer, crafty mom or amateur camera guy with a visual joke, billions of us all start posting and interacting with each other’s daily news and passion projects.

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Stage V – The Mobile & Impact Age  (Early 2010s) – represented by Netflix, Instagram and iPhone

The internet starts looking a lot prettier, more visual and less words, context-aware and always-on (they say 81% of Millennials now sleep with their phone).  About 80% of the developed world is now connected to the web and nearly half of the developing world is also there too.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 12.32.54 PMIntroducing Stage VI – The Impact Age (the Late 2010s)  – represented by Internet of Things, Big Data, Wearables, and Virtual/Augmented Reality

We want something more out of digital now, it’s no longer our play thing – in a world with a crushing pace of change, time demands and drive for personal fulfillment and immediate efficiency, we are now demanding it to become more personalized to our needs, more immersive to our desired experiences and smarter to give us exactly what we want and when we want it. Who will be the winners? and losers? how quick will it happen? and what will be want by 2020 as our next phase? We’ll chat this in an upcoming post.

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