Is CDO the new member in the C-suite?

by Sohini Bagchi    Aug 16, 2013


Digital is the new buzzword in the enterprise circle and with organizations starting to see value in their digital assets, many have started to include a new member in their C-suite – Chief Digital Officer or the CDO. According to research firm Gartner, by 2015, 25% of enterprises will have a CDO to manage their digital goals and strategies. But it needs to be understood what the CDO would look like and what traits he should possess to monetize digital assets or bring value to the business.

So, who is the CDO?

The new definition of a CDO is evolving and still ambiguous at some levels apart from the fact that his role is meant to drive digital strategies. According to Sujay Dangi, Chief of Technical Services, Titan Eye Plus, “As social and other digital technologies shift responsibilities in the C-suite, businesses are creating newer means to focus and drive their digital strategy.”

For example, Harvard University appointed a CDO, Perry Hewitt in 2011, who describes her role on her official website as “offering comprehensive digital strategy to meet needs in communications, engagement, and transaction, as well as exploring ways that organizations transform through and for their digital constituencies.”

An evolving role

So, is CDO a different person from the CIO or the CMO? The answer may be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ as it could be any one of these executives, as long as he looks at areas where the company can make money digitally. Currently there are CIOs and CMOs in many organizations driving digital strategies. As B Hari, Chairman and MD- Ontrack Systems Limited points out CDO as a specialized role is evolving, so companies that are customer centric and wish to thrive in the digital economy should seriously think of having a CDO.

Some experts point out that although the CIO, CMO and CDO – all have to deal with digital information and in that aspect their roles may appear similar, there are subtle differences in their responsibility. Hari argues that even the new age CIO or CMO or any digitally-savvy executive from within the company can certainly take on to the role, provided he has a strong digital network, has a sound knowledge of digital technologies such as social, cloud, mobile, analytics and big data.

Of course some companies are appointing CDO as another new member in the team. David Mathison, Founder of CDO Club estimates that currently companies hiring CDOs are mostly from advertising agencies, publishers and broadcasters, while the biggest growth is being seen in the non-profit sector and even governments globally. Hari believes the digital officers’ role will even vary from industry to industry and from one company to the other depending on their requirements and strategies.

Traits of the CDO

Even though CDOs can come in different shades and colors based on the organization and the industry vertical, or whether he will step in as a new member in the C-suite or an evolution of the CMO, there are certain common traits all CDOs should possess.  Gartner analyst Mark P. McDonald observes those digital executives having a holistic approach to the digital strategy, have a knowhow on technical strategies and an understanding of data can make a difference to the entire organization and bring value to the table.

Others point out that digital heads need to keep the ‘digital’ culture alive through unwavering commitment. He should have an incredible team, be creative, agile, take risk and drive business with a sense of wit and innovation to drive the digital enterprise - to monetize digital assets.

To conclude, some of the key traits of CDOs can be as follows:

1. have a holistic approach to the digital strategy

2. have knowhow on technical strategies

3. understanding of data - turn data into actionable insights

4. have an incredible team

5. be creative and agile

6. have an understand of emerging technologies such as analytics cloud, mobile and social

7. have a sense of wit (it is a highly customer centric role)

Clearly, companies are looking at CDO to drive their digital initiatives. But experts also suggest that companies should be hiring or appointing the right type of person who can deal with the changing dynamics and create a bigger picture of how social and digital technologies can make a difference to the enterprise and most importantly bring value to the table.