Chief Digital Officers: Are They Transforming Businesses?

The CDO is more than just a fancy job title


Companies are currently reaching new levels of creativity when it comes to job titles.

If you’ve built your career around being a receptionist, but are not happy with your job title, move to Boston and apply for a job at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - there you’ll be the Director of First Impressions.

Some might put the C-Suite in the same bracket. It seems that any word relating to business; digital, innovation, strategy, finance, data - can be put between the words ‘Chief’ and ‘Officer’ to form a job title.

C-Suite roles, however, shouldn’t be passed off by companies as a fad. We’ve seen not just commercial companies, but charities and governments, implement new C-Suite roles, demonstrating its increasing influence on senior management teams.

The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is one of the positions that’s been attracting considerable attention. Gartner predicts that by 2017, 25% of companies will have a CDO, as digital continues to disrupt and redefine how organizations operate. Wired has called it the new ‘it’ position, labelling 2014 as the year of the CDO.

The assumption that the CDO’s increasing prominence is solely down to the explosion of digital is incorrect. In fact, the CDO’s biggest task will be to deal with the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO). The relationship between the CIO and the CMO has grown tempestuous of late, with pressures surrounding tech often strained.

The two positions have been clashing ‘more frequently about questions of turf, innovation and accountability’ according to Chan Suh from Wired. The CDO will play an important role in acting as a go between for these positions, making it their responsibility to decipher how data can be turned into creative digital content and how technology can be best used to drive the business forward.

Vala Afshar, CMO at Extreme Networks, commented on the importance of CDOs ‘preventing Kodak moments’, where a company becomes overly focused on revenues and loses sight of new innovations. Effective CDOs make sure that their companies are aware of developments in the digital space, advising CEOs on initiatives which will reap considerable rewards in the future.

Digital transformation represents a company’s renewed focus on the customer. The shift requires capital, but also a different mindset and the CDO should be a central figure in this. Many companies find themselves at a crossroads between digital failure and success, and the companies that do the best will probably have an effective CDO behind them.

Due to this, the CDO is without question an essential part of any company’s transformation process. They should lead from the front and have the presence to drive the company’s digital fortunes forward.

It’s a creative job title, but certainly not a useless one. 


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