What the CDO will bring to the table

by Darinia Khongwir    Jul 31, 2013

IT Professional

The Chief Digital Officer or the CDO is a relatively new abbreviation in CXO parlance. The new C-level executive is predominately charged with ensuring that the companies’ exhaustive resources in digital content are being used effectively to connect with customers and drive revenue growth.

It has been observed that most CIOs do not take the responsibility on information policy. As a result of this enterprises will look to the CDO to fill this gap. Partha Iyengar, country manager for Research, India at Gartner observes that the appointment of a CDO often relates to an awakening within the organization’s senior leadership of the importance of information management and the current lack of ownership and focus on it.


Gartner last year reported that by 2015 some 25 percent of companies will have one managing their digital goals. While media companies are at the forefront of this movement, Mark P McDonald, Gartner’s research analyst, says all kinds of organizations are starting to see value in their digital assets and in how those assets can help grow revenue.

“I think everybody’s asking themselves whether they need [a CDO] or should become one,” McDonald says. “Organizations are looking for some kind of innovation or growth, and digital technologies are providing the first source of technology-intensive growth that we’ve had in a decade.”

Why the need for a CDO? 

While the CIO and the CDO are both concerned with digital information, their responsibilities diverge sharply. Enterprises are striving to manage data from various sources–from social media, internet of things, inexpensive sensors and many more. Experts believe enterprise data demands to be managed with the same diligence just like other enterprise assets to gain business insight. While many organizations are increasingly realizing this, very few businesses however, are equipped to methodically exploit this plethora of data types and translate that knowledge into meaningful business insight. Even fewer have the dedicated thought leaders to effectively manage their information and data assets. Experts believe that companies need a CDO who can be the champion of enterprise data and can provide the leadership required to effectively manage data assets.

“The role of IT in the past has been to procure and secure IT equipment for the company, lock [data] up and bolt it down,” says Jason Brown, the CDO for trade show and event management company George Little Management. “Whereas with digital content, you want to get it out to the world so the rest of the world can see it and access it. I don’t care about Exchange servers, Web servers or any of that stuff,” continues Brown, who was hired in September 2011 as George Little’s first-ever CDO, reporting to the company’s CEO.

Organizations including Sears, Starbucks, Harvard University, the City of New York and many others have hired CDOs, says David Mathison, founder of the Chief Digital Officer Club, where current and would-be CDOs can find training, job opportunities and more. Their goal? To improve efforts in digital content promotion, a motive shared by CDOs from Forbes, Columbia University and elsewhere, who described to Computerworld how they go about helping their companies take advantage of their large digital resources.

According to estimates from CDO Club founder David Mathison, the top three kinds of companies hiring CDOs today are advertising agencies, publishers and broadcasters, while the biggest growth is being seen in the non-profit sector and state and local governments.

What’s driving the evolution of the CDO?

Social media and the enabling technologies are fundamentally reshaping how consumers behave. Smarter, quicker and more advanced mobile telephony brings with it a wide range of possibilities for business such as media companies, retailers and information providers. Services that combine social and local elements are becoming the norm. All of this is forcing organizations to rethink their market and customer strategies. Russell Reynold Associates reports that the deluge of information from smartphones, social media and the rising number of app users will be behind the rise of the CDO.

What does the future hold for the CDO?


In many cases, the CDO will be the senior executive handling the fastest growing revenue streams within the business or will be the executive holding the keys to the company’s future—placing him or her squarely in line to replace the CEO. 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.