Rise Of The Chief Digital Officer

19 Nov 2014
Chief Digital Officer



There are a host of others, but you get the idea: C-suites are now more like C-conference rooms thanks to the rise of “digital enterprises”—companies that don’t just use technology, but are fundamentally shaped by innovation. The result is a growing need for C-suite slim downs and the blending of traditional positions into a kind of super-executive: the chief digital officer (CDO).


A CIO article from October 13 discusses some of the key issues companies face when transitioning to a digital future. According to George Westerman, a researcher for MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, “What we find with digital transformation work is that it’s not really a technology problem, it’s a leadership problem.” And with 88 percent of companies surveyed saying they’re headed—fast—for this kind of transition, it may time for the historically disparate roles of the CIO and CMO to unify and create a better, stronger alternative.


According to a 2013 Accenture study, 77 percent of CIOs said they should be more closely aligned with CMOs; only 56 percent of CMOs felt the same. Marketing officers were primarily concerned with consumer expectations and ensuring employees could freely use technology without IT interference, while 49 percent of CIOs argued that “marketing pulls in technologies without consideration for IT standards.” Seems like a rift that can’t be mended, but the digital enterprise doesn’t care: a 2012 report from Gartner predicted that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. In other words, the streams are crossing—whether executives like it or not.


It worked for Alibaba Group, but does that mean a CDO is the right choice for your company? According to a November 6 article from Marketing, the massive success of the Chinese e-commerce company’s IPO has CEOs across the globe looking for a way to replicate the magic, and hiring (or creating) a CDO seems the quickest path to profit.

But just slapping the “digital” label on a new executive doesn’t guarantee success, and handing over CIO reins to the CMO or vice versa poses a similar problem. Ideally, you’re not only looking for a combination of these roles, but something unique—an agile decision maker who doesn’t view your company as a set of separate “tracks.” A CDO needs the power to innovate as required across department lines, finding new ways for each side to benefit from their judicious application of technology. It means everything from better CRM systems to cloud-computing initiatives—digital knows no boundaries.

As emerging technologies supersede the individual influences of information and marketing, the days of the CIO and CMO are numbered. Call it what you want—‘CDO’ is just the current buzzword—but let’s face facts. The boardroom is changing, and it’s time to slim down the C-suites.

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