Chief digital officers will soon become boardroom regulars

Technology research firm Gartner’s prediction of a chief digital officer becoming a staple in the boardroom is based on major digital transformation of organisations and, in my opinion, 2015 seems a little far off.

Gartner analyst David Willis said at the Symposium/ITxpo 2012, “The chief digital officer plays in the space where the enterprise meets the customer, where revenue is generated and mission accomplished.”

Willis suggests IT leaders will be in the position to define the CDO, but is a CDO made of the same stuff as a CIO? I would argue they are two different skill sets.

A CIO is a systems and process-based professional, dealing with large enterprise systems, not people. While these systems would affect the role of the CDO, it is a common mistake of companies to push digital on to the CIO or even the CMO.

Organisations face complex and enormous challenges in the digital economy, given the struggle of changing technology and consumer behavior. A CDO requires a number of skills, from transactional, marketing, customer service, usability as well as a change manager focused on people not just on technology.

Experience is critical and, unfortunately, there is a drought of seasoned professionals who could fill the role of a CDO.

Gartner predicts that by the end of this decade 90% of IT spending will take place outside of the classic CIO channel. The challenge is greater than the sum of the technology parts, as the CDO would need exceptional people skills for external and internal education strategy; the role is a morphing of a CMO, CIO and CEO.

Recruitment specialist, Russell Reynolds in his latest post The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer, says:

The last two years have seen the rise of the Chief Digital Officer, a senior executive who sits at the right hand of the CEO and is seen as instrumental to the future of the organization. For many companies, especially those in the retail and leisure sectors, digital is the fastest growing revenue stream, and a Chief Digital Officer (or, sometimes, SVP Online) is extremely important in driving that growth. In some sectors, such as traditional media, the CDO often will have been hired to help transform the company as its products evolve digitally.

The person for this role is not the social media expert or the digital marketing manager, but nor is it the CIO.

Fi Bendall is the managing director of digital and interactive consultancy company Bendalls Group. With over 20 years’ experience, Bendall has worked with global brands including BBC and Virgin, and is an expert in how businesses can approach strategy in the digital world. You can follow her on Twitter at @FiBendall, and can contact her through Bendalls Group.




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