We have all heard about the growing tension between chief marketing officers (CMOs) and chief information officers (CIOs) in organizations. Adding fuel to the proverbial fire is what role the chief digital officer (CDO) plays in the organization and whether it can be filled by the CMO or CIO.
Businesses are increasingly faced with how to convert legacy thinking and processes to the new digital era in which information reigns supreme. There is no question that new thinking and skills have to be applied, and that both CIO and CMO roles are changing. All organizations need a digital-savvy executive who is ready to take on the challenge of transforming a business in the digital era. Vision and marketing experience are not enough. Neither is a back-office technical skill set. What’s required is a combination of skills–strategy and technical know-how–to drive the operational improvements required by the business for change throughout the enterprise.
McKinsey & Company’s annual global survey, “Bullish on Digital,” concludes that CDOs are increasingly playing a critical role in the C-suites of major global organizations. Thirty percent of respondents report a CDO is part of their companies’ executive teams. In a sign that this new role is already creating value, respondents whose organizations have a CDO also indicate significantly more progress toward their digital vision than those without one.
In addition, Gartner predicts that by 2015, 25 percent of organizations will have a CDO. Interestingly, it also says about 20 percent of CIOs have already taken on the responsibilities of the CDO. But is the CIO function the place to find the CDO when the role of the CDO is really a hybrid between marketing and technology? CDOs are responsible for analyzing information and knowing instinctively how to leverage it to their best advantage. They are also responsible for knowing how to reach audiences across different platforms. The CDO has to be an outward-facing business leader, able to connect with the modern customer to craft the right experience.
It is impossible to separate digital from marketing because understanding and connecting with the customer is marketing. Technology is what is used to understand and connect with a customer under the marketing umbrella. Nondigital ways to understand and connect with customers will always exist, but to the customer, the overall experience, including digital, is what matters. Technology must support and deliver the experience the customer wants, rather than what the underlying systems can support.
With this in mind, I would argue that at the end of the day, the CDO skill set is more closely aligned with marketing. There is, without a doubt, value in having a CDO who has developed as a technology executive, but businesses need to remember that technology is ultimately working behind the scenes. A CDO should be comfortable with putting those solutions to the best possible use, but if this person is unable to convert those solutions into enhanced offerings or an improved experience for the customer, then the technology quickly becomes irrelevant. The most fascinating gadgets and most impressive algorithms are all for naught if they don’t drive results.
A company needs to recognize early on that a CDO’s priority is not simply to implement technology, but is, as I stated initially, to transform a business in the digital era. Without the marketing savvy to truly demonstrate that transformation to the rest of the world, the CDO is unable to truly meet his or her potential. It’s a position that presents great opportunities for companies that give it a shot–they just need to be sure they’re giving that shot to the right executive.