As marketing leaders, we like to think that we’re way ahead of most of our colleagues in other business functions, and indeed corporate IT, in the adoption and promotion of digital.
For those of us who are also members of the top team, it’s not at all unusual for the other CxOs, except perhaps the CIO, to turn to us first when the discussion moves on to shaping the firm’s digital strategy and planning the necessary investments.
But apart from injecting new digital techniques and ways of working into the marketing function and the firm’s channels and customer interactions, are CMOs really best placed to lead the wider digital transformation of their companies? Based on the results of the wide-ranging research project I recently conducted for the Leading Edge Forum, entitled Digital Leadership in the C-Suite, perhaps not in the way we might have thought.
The research, which included surveys and interviews with C-level executives from a wide range of companies across industry sectors, was triggered by a recognition that the growing importance of digital across all sectors is creating very real leadership tensions in the boardroom.
Some data points from the project findings:
- Less than 40 percent of companies believe that their business leaders are equipped to harness and lead digitisation.
- Most Chief Information Officers (CIOs) feel that the digital agenda should be theirs by default but in reality fewer than 35 percent of today’s CIOs are expected to be tasked with leading digital transformation.
- Many Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) also make a persuasive case to own and drive the digital agenda, but the scope of digital will inevitably extend well beyond their remit and into functions such as R&D and the supply chain.
- As a result, many firms have hired, or are considering hiring, a Chief Digital Officer (CDO)… and that directly impacts the dynamics of the top team.
These points directly reflect what I see with my consulting clients every day. While some companies have made huge strides, the majority of C-suite teams have yet to genuinely come to grips with the digital leadership imperative and need to do so urgently. Many CEOs admit that the lack of sufficient digital leadership from senior executives is now a major barrier to future success. The frequently strained relationship between Marketing and IT on the digital topic doesn’t help.
What’s The Big Deal
CIOs and others in Enterprise IT often throw up their hands in bemusement and frustration. They ask: “What’s the big deal? Surely Digital is just a new, more fashionable label for IT! We’re already responsible for managing all of that. So why all the fuss?” The reality is, however, that what we today call digital goes well beyond the technology and service domains that Enterprise IT is typically equipped to deliver.
Recognising this, marketing functions have often been quick to establish their own ‘shadow IT’ organisations to drive the digital marketing agenda forward. And while marketing topics dominated the digital agenda, that was, perhaps, a way to avoid being left behind by the competition. But digital already reaches well beyond the marketing function. The internet of things, 3-D printing, smart machines and a whole host of emerging digital innovations point to fundamentally new product development and supply chain opportunities, business propositions, business models and more. Marketing will be just one of several important functions that will need to develop new game plans to drive digitally transformed businesses forward in the new world.
The Fastest Route To Executive Obsolescence
Soon, every member of the C-suite will need to be leading digital. Abdicating digital to a CMO, CIO or even a newly appointed CDO will be the fastest route to executive obsolescence and accelerated retirement.
While I don’t believe – and the research doesn’t support the idea – that every company needs to hire a Chief Digital Officer, under some circumstances it may be a good idea to do so. Someone on the top team does need to be given formal responsibility for ensuring that the right digital agenda is formulated and pursued, and that digital is sufficiently well-understood and pervasive that it becomes part of everyone’s job – in the C-suite and across the organisation.
Raising Executive’s Digital IQ
To make all of that happen, there needs to be a concerted effort to raise the Digital IQ of the whole of the senior leadership team which, in turn, will ensure that the broader organisation appreciates emerging digital opportunities and imperatives. Developing – and where necessary recruiting – digital talent across the functions will also be required to shape and deliver the desired transformation agenda.
The alternative is not attractive. There are still too many firms where the status quo prevails: an Enterprise IT organisation that is disconnected from, or can’t keep up with, emerging digital business activities; a C-suite where ‘technology is not my job’ attitudes are still deemed acceptable; and isolated pockets of digital activity in marketing, engineering and elsewhere that have yet to coalesce into a real digital strategy. Such firms will prove to be increasingly vulnerable to rivals who take the potential of digital technologies and digital disruption much more seriously.