Where the CDO was once responsible for introducing basic digital capabilities to an otherwise ‘analogue’ business, the role has morphed into something of far greater importance in recent years. Many are of the opinion that, in some ways, the CDO’s job is to make themselves redundant. Some would argue that a fully functioning, well-oiled digital company no longer has a need for an officer driving further digital transformation.
As the CDO performs their task and spreads digital responsibility throughout the company, their hands-on workload will inevitably decrease. The role develops from top-down digitization initially, to more of a guiding role once digital capability has been properly implemented. Generally, though, companies fall into one of two camps; either they see the merits of bringing in an outsider to assess and revamp their digital processes, or are averse to the role because they believe it to be everyone’s responsibility from the off.
But the ‘anti’ camp should consider the long-term benefits of bringing in an expert to oversee transformation. In very few jobs is obsolescence the goal, and a good CDO will be able to position themselves as an invaluable member of the boardroom over time. Phrases like ‘go digital’ and ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ are overused to the point of meaninglessness, but you’d be hard pressed to find a successful company that haven’t given adequate attention to the former, and companies need to be working closely with their CDO to influence every major strategic decision made.
Essentially, the CDO steps on the toes of every other C-suite member, assuming parts of their roles under the umbrella of ‘digital transformation’ and working to improve all areas of a business with a digital focus. This is where the personality of a good CDO can be the difference between smooth transformation and friction; they must work alongside the other members of the C-suite transparently, spreading the message that they are there to make others’ work easier, rather than to strip responsibility or to complicate roles unnecessarily.
In terms of the expectations of a good CDO, the initial task is one of getting up to speed. The fear of being left behind currently pervades business, and a survey by Progress found that 59% of companies are worried that they may already be too late in terms of making digital inroads, and that they stand to suffer financial loss as a result. 96% of companies surveyed by Progress see digital transformation as important or critical, too, but this transformation is not something that should ever be considered ‘finished’. Digital is not an end in itself.
Rather companies should aim to achieve a state of permanent transformation, of constant adaptation with the CDO at the helm. Basic transformation is only the beginning. If a CDO’s initial role is to successfully change the mindset of the company to one of digital focus, the ongoing task is in ensuring that wholesale transformation isn’t necessary again in the future. The industry moves, and change is only becoming more rapid; companies need to be in a position to respond to these changes. A CDO, then, can becomes less a revolutionary figure than a guiding force once digital focus has been properly assumed company-wide. With a good CDO, a company can be abreast of the continual changes that occur within the digital landscape, changes that can threaten a company’s position without the personnel in place to navigate them.
A CDO should acknowledge that the market waits for no one, and that their company must be proactive in their decision making, their changes and their execution. The role is, in many ways, one of strategy, hence the need for the CDO to work closely with the CEO, and for their goals to be aligned. Internally, the CDO can champion a digitally focused mentality, ensuring that staff and stakeholders are fully on-board. Once this is instilled, the job of the CDO is by no means done. Rather, it takes on a new level of importance.