Article: Say hello to the Chief Digital Officer


Say hello to the Chief Digital Officer

Digital strategy is fast becoming the corporate strategy and thus, companies need a new kind of leader – The Chief Digital Officer
Say hello to the Chief Digital Officer

The Chief Digital Officer is considered to be the third most sought after position in the C-suite


As you read this, our world is being transformed by digital. In the next decade, we expect 100 billion digital devices to be connected in the Internet of Things.1 This kind of overload created nine times more data in the last two years than we’ve seen in all of human history.2 For many companies, a compelling convergence is happening where digital strategy is fast becoming the corporate strategy. In the midst of this disruption, your organization needs a new kind of leader: the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

The CDO is the newest addition to the C-suite, and the number of CDO positions has grown exponentially over the past few years, surpassing 1,000 in 2014.3 The Korn Ferry Institute now considers it to be the third most sought after position in the C-suite and the Economic Times believes it will be one of the six highest paid job titles this year.4  The CDO’s role and scope is still evolving and there is no “one size fits all” model, but any CDO will have to orient to the needs of the organization. That said, we can identify, broadly, three types:

Ex-agency - Traditional interactive marketing leaders that view digital as “digital marketing” and engagement with the customer.

Digital transformation strategists - Change agents chartered with the reinvention of their organizations (e.g., in media and entertainment).

Technologists - Those who view digital primarily from an enterprise perspective – most often reporting to the CIO.

Which type is most appropriate for your organization depends on what industry you’re in and the objectives you want your digital strategy to achieve.

The CDO is a power player

As an enabler, an effective CDO can help enhance the rest of the C-suite. CDOs can be innovation catalysts for the CEO, enable operational efficiencies for the COO, support the CSO by developing new business opportunities, and support the CMO in the shift from transactional marketing to engagement with mobile and social media.

Gateway to the CDO

Once your organization determines its need for a CDO, it needs a roadmap to get there. Here are three potential routes:

1. Elevate the current non-executive Head of Digital to the C-suite. This path takes advantage of existing talent and recognizes digital as a prominent part of the organization.

2. Centralize digital resources to operate in a more coordinated and singularly minded way, also known as “lift and shift.” Where resources are fragmented, converge into one team with a single leader.

3. Create something new. Even today, digital is treated by most organizations solely as a channel — mainly because legacy businesses already deliver products and services through conventional channels. But you could, say, form a new entity that delivers business outcomes exclusively through digital channels or even develop a challenger brand to compete with the legacy business.

Be “proactively reactive”

As the digital habits and behaviors of end users continue to evolve, the “new normal” will continue to be redefined. Being proactive will become increasingly difficult as trends are increasingly dictated to companies, not by them. But nor is being reactive necessarily bad — especially if the company has invested in a foundation that permits it to act nimbly and quickly. Being “proactively reactive” requires that you have the right leadership, operating model, governance, people and technology.

All organizations should prepare for a time — now or soon — when digital is not merely part of your business, but is your business. Those who start early and transition aggressively will be well positioned to drive powerful digital growth, create value, and play an exciting and increasingly significant role in shaping their digital future — a future that should be led by a Chief Digital Officer.


1. Diamandis, Peter. The World in 2025: 8 Predictions for the Next 10 Years. Date accessed: May 12, 2015. 

2. Ismail, Salim, Michael Malone et al. Exponential organizations: Why new organization are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it). Diversion Books. 2014.

3. CDO Club. Chief Digital Officer Talent Map 2013. Date accessed: April 23, 2015.

4. Verma, Neha Singh. Six highest paying jobs in 2015. Date accessed: April 23, 2015. 


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Topics: C-Suite, #Corporate

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