Rise of the Chief Digital Officer

It’s official. ‘Digital’ has made it to the C-Suite.

From the lowly corners of the marketing department a few years ago when companies started recognizing that they’d better pay some attention (and allocate some budget) to digital and social marketing, organizations have finally realised that this cross-functional role needs to be positioned at an executive level.

Because without any doubt, ‘digital’ and ‘digitisation’ are firmly on the agenda for CEOs who know that they need to place a priority on the future survival of their companies. And most of them (the CEOs) are – to be polite – not exactly experts in this domain.

One of their challenges is trying to figure out who the digital leadership ‘experts’ are. Not an easy task, considering that everyone is talking ‘disruption and innovation’, but not everyone can formulate a clear strategy, and map out the transition points for the future-proofing process.

So, what should you look out for when considering the appointment of a digital leader?:

Firstly, be clear that the Chief Digital Officer and the CIO are likely to have very different sets of skills. In fact, our market research shows that digital leaders are not necessarily deep IT tech specialists, at all.

Secondly, make sure the ‘digi-guru’ moves beyond the jargon and gets talking about real stuff, in plain English. If s/he can’t explain the strategy, the process, and the benefits in plain language, ask more questions. And more questions. Remember Y2K and the hype that surrounded it? Well, don’t be hyped out about this!

Lastly (for now), the CDO is a truly cross-functional leadership role, and will need to interface with and influence every area of your organization. S/he will therefore need well-developed EQ and relationship skills in order to be successful in achieving the anticipated outcomes. A technical whizz with brilliant ideas who sadly lacks the social skills to get stuff done is a non-starter.

And then, if you’re feeling like you’re on the back foot in this era of digitisation, get educated.

Here are some great places to do that:
Suits and Sneakers
Deloitte Digital

– Debbie Goodman-Bhyat


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