How Has The Role Of The Chief Digital Officer Developed?

What is changing in digital leadership roles?


In April 2015, the UK’s Cabinet Office decided to combine the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology office (CTO) roles together. Conall Bullock took on the role, becoming the first Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to work in a governmental capacity.

Yesterday we stated that one of the CDO’s main objectives must be to act as a go-between for CTOs and CIOs. The fact that one of the world’s most powerful governments has decided to do this demonstrates the weight that the CDO role now holds.

In that respect, the role’s developed considerably. Going from the CIO’s and CTO’s younger brother to now being important enough, in the eyes of certain companies, to become an assimilation of the two, means that it’s come a long way in a short period of time.

CDOs shouldn’t rest on their laurels however. Whilst they’re central now, Computing magazine believes that the position won’t exist in ten years time. This is because the role is a transformational one, one which is only required due to the immaturity of many organizations’ digital departments.

This immaturity means that companies can rush into making digital investments, meaning the technology they possess is inadequate for the targets they need to reach. The CDO’s role is to assess which technologies have the capacity to improve their company’s processes going forward, and to decide where investments would be best made.

Due to this, in an interview with Computing,'s CDO states;

‘It's not an IT role, it's a business role, and if anything it's closer to marketing than technology. Technology is just an enabler, but it's really about transforming the organization.’

He adds that CDOs must understand both marketing and technology - identifying that they must ’speak both languages’. The role has, however, been described as a ‘catalyst’ by Travelex’s CDO, Sean Cornwell, showing that even CDOs themselves expect the role to be redundant in the not too distant future.

Cornwell even went as far as to say that ‘If I'm successful in my role - my role should not exist in three to four years' time because digital will cut across the whole organization and we will be a fully digitally-embraced organization’. This implies that the downfall of the CDO role will be linked to their effectiveness.

The CDO is then an enabler role. It’s also important to add that the CDO role is not necessary at every organization. Companies which have digital at their core, Facebook, Twitter and Google being three obvious examples, will probably have no need for one. It’s up to the companies who are lagging behind to catch up with the companies mentioned above so that they too can do without the CDO role.

There have undoubtedly been changes to the CDO role over the last couple of years - and the fact that they often earn six figure salaries means that people will still be clamouring to become one. It would however be wishful thinking to expect the role to develop much past the next decade, meaning that it will hit its peak earlier than other similar roles.


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