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As we begin a new year and a new decade, many large-scale organizations realize that the best path forward is driven by a keen leader with an intrepid vision. Digital is no longer a description of things but a way of doing things — an approach and a mindset. The need for someone who is able to nimbly guide an organization through the rapid pace of industry transformation informs the evolution of the chief digital officer (CDO).

Driven by a vast, far-reaching rise in social media and platform communities, app development and skyrocketing download numbers, and mobile devices in high demand, traditional roles gave way to the apparent need for a savvy digital expert with senior level experience. The CDO is no longer in charge of basic digital tasks, market demands have forced the role to be more: a  “Transformer in Chief.”

Enterprise CDO positions have doubled year after year since 2013. The role is a key piece in positioning an organization for success in 2020 and masterfully matching pace with the market by bringing a high caliber of digital talent to the table.

A Highly Sought-After, Seasoned Talent

The CDO can be a daunting position to fill for those who are not properly equipped with a mix of expertise, vision, and digital acumen, as well as the right blend of hard and soft skills. The leader who fills the role of the CDO will sit at the right hand of the CEO and is an astute observer and leader of trends backed by a seasoned organizational background in general management.

“CDOs will be the executives with the operating experience, management skills, strategic mindset, and vision to lead businesses in an increasingly technological future,” reports Rhys Grossman, and Jana Rich of Russell Reynolds Associates.

CDOs are charged with developing and integrating digital initiatives into the organization’s strategic planning process and frequently collaborating with other executives, including the CEO, chief information officer (CIO), business unit leaders, and the chief financial officer (CFO).

Another route towards an evolution of C-level digital transformation leadership includes the hybrid Chief Innovation and Digital Officer (CIDO). The CIO and CDO roles converge, forming a role that brings together corporate strategies, innovation, technology, and operations — blurring reporting lines and incorporating the dynamic marketing background of the CDO role with the technology strategy and computer systems of the CIO. Digital initiatives are further evangelized by bringing together both roles into one CIDO, which may be a strong option for small to midsize organizations.

Masterminding a New Approach Where Few Have Tread Before

A CDO’s vision should include more than a generic profile of the organization’s key customers. By anticipating individualism and interaction, the CDO meets its customer base with intuitive helpfulness, thoughtful information, and highly interactive content across platforms.

In tandem with more organization-specific duties, key CDO functions include:

  • Expertly transition e-commerce and transactional environments, so that customers have optimal intuitive experiences to match and exceed their expectation level.
  • Propel more in-depth engagement with key audiences through brand awareness and content marketing activities, focusing on individualized interchanges over mass communication.
  • Inspire change throughout the whole company with change management actions by enhancing product and digital capabilities.
  • Thrive in fast-paced business settings, reinforced with exemplary strategic insights, strong execution orientation skill sets, and an affinity for relationship-building and social adeptness.

CDO-individuals are invigorated by the shifting landscape and the challenge to surge their organization to the front of the pack. A service-oriented position of providing customer empowerment through digital interaction and support is a defining characteristic of successful organizations.

The Rise of the Digital CEO

A CDO will likely be in command of the largest revenue streams within an organization. These revenue streams will be built upon a portfolio of speedy, agile processes created in the “spirit of digital.”

According to a McKinsey & Co. report, the success of the transformational CDO role is when their role is no longer necessary within an organization. Meaning that the role in itself is to change an organization from the inside-out to be better suited and more versatile in a marketplace that requires speed, agility, and endurance.

“CDOs who demonstrate their ability to manage change and transform their businesses almost certainly will lead the way in the rise of the Digital CEO,” says Grossman and Rich.

CDO’s bold vision is a critical linchpin in an organization’s lasting success. By giving consideration to and bringing all department leadership, teams, functions and activities on-board, the CDO’s inherent strategic risk-taking becomes an advantageous and appealing approach.


Reference Links:

“‘Transformer in chief’: The new chief digital officer”

“The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer”