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Who’s Leading Digital?

The chief digital officer (CDO) was the third most in-demand C-level position this year, according to executive search firm Korn Ferry.

Here are the top five, in order of demand.

    • Chief Commercial (Revenue) Officer
    • Chief Innovation Officer
    • Chief Digital Officer
    • Chief Cyber Security Officer
    • Chief Sustainability Officer

The rise of the chief digital officer reflects the disruption being felt across industries from digital transformation and the impact this is having on organizations' business models. Well over half of respondents to a recent survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services say their organization's business model will be radically different in three years. These changes don't just happen; they need to be led.

According to McKinsey, the CDO is a “transformer in chief, charged with coordinating and managing comprehensive changes that address everything from updating how a company works to building out entirely new businesses."

The problem is, there aren't many people who have both the digital chops AND the executive skills complex organizations demand. “The CDO needs to be someone who not only has digital acumen but also is a seasoned general manager who can operate within a large-scale business and influence effectively across the organization," according to executive search firm Russell Reynolds. “This is a relatively new type of leader and one who is hard to find, attract and retain."

Given that demand for this new position grossly outstrips supply (numbers from our research hover around 15%), what are organizations to do?

The answer lies in a new model that business leaders are just starting to get comfortable with — taking an extreme collaborative approach to digital leadership, often with the chief information officer at the center.

At its core, “digital" is about exploiting information at speed. CIOs who have dedicated as much time and attention to the “I" part of IT as they have to the “T" are well positioned to take on this challenge. Case in point: Alan Hill, the CIO and head of “information superiority" for the British army, has just taken on the CDO role at Exeter University, where he will continue to “focus on digital and information," he told CIO UK.

But digital leaders can't go it alone. At a growing number of organizations, digital has moved beyond small experiments to permeate everything from customer experience to digital products to operations. As a result, CDOs and the CIOs who aspire to fill that role must also be collaborators in chief. The days of collecting requirements and then heading into the IT fortress to execute them are over.

“Being a CIO today is about collaboration, co-design, and co-creation," said Ralph Loura, CIO at HP's Enterprise Group, in a recent interview with my friend Martha Heller on CIO.com. “With today's rapid pace of business change and constant risk of disruption in the form of new products, services, and go-to-market models, multi-year programs are much less palatable to the business. So it's essential for the CIO to be part of the strategic leadership team — co-designing and creating solutions in partnership with the business." That means the CMO, the head of product innovation, the COO and more.

The CDO position will likely be a temporary one. Once we've come out the other side of this transformation and digital is fully integrated into the business, that thinking will be absorbed into the various parts of organizations. In the meantime, there's a brilliant and exciting opportunity here for CIOs.

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Comments

  1. Vijay Ramachandran02 Nov 2015 10:31:46

    Very nicely put, Abbie. Especially the need for collaboration and not ‘speccing’.
    In India, it’s typically CIOs leading ‘digital’ initiatives though, not surprisingly, many get stuck in the ‘architecture phase’, or become vanity projects. A pity.
    Also, organizations going digital need to seize the opportunity to ground up change business processes—that’s still a limited play. So more of a front-end polish over a legacy back-end.
    Private sector retail banks are however going the CDO way, with CIOs only responsible in most cases for ensuring governance and the back-end.

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