The Crowded C-Suite

We’ve examined a few C-suite roles in this series so far. The Chief Information Officer still keeps the lights on, but this position has broadened due to the diffusion of IT. The Chief Technology Officer is most often focused on the company’s product offerings, listening to the customer and innovating accordingly.

We’ve also seen that the Chief Transformation Officer manages the company’s change journey, acting as the face of the transformation the company needs. But there’s another C-suite role tied to change and transformation. Indeed, McKinsey labeled this role the “transformer in chief.” This is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

The Chief Digital Officer: The Path of Digital Change

The role of CDO has experienced exponential growth since 2008, when there were roughly twelve CDOs worldwide. In 2015, there were over 2,000 CDOs, and a study found in 2017 that approximately 19% of global companies now have a CDO. 60% of these were hired since 2015.

It’s been said that the CDO is a fruitful combination of the Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, and Chief Marketing Officer. The job of the CDO is to bring the sales, finance, product operations and marketing units together into a cohesive digital flow, driving growth and strategic renewal through the smart utilization of digital platforms, tools, and processes.

The word “transformation” is a common word associated with this role – for example, that the CDO accelerates digital transformation initiatives. But unlike the Chief Transformation Officer, the CDO’s focus is exclusively digital. One could argue that in this day and age, any kind of company transformation has to involve digital.

Nonetheless, the Chief Transformation Officer’s role has a more general focus, while the CDO’s role necessarily involves tech. Indeed, when it comes to tech specifically, the “traditional” CIO role has been described as a manager of continuity while the CDO is a manager of change.

The Chief Digital Officer: The Customer’s Digital Experience

A primary focus of the CDO is the customer’s digital experience, developing a deep and detailed view of customer behavior across all channels by data mapping the customer experience journey. This provides a reference point that the CDO can use to challenge the status quo and make necessary changes to optimize the customer’s digital experience.

These changes can include rapid response to customer interactions through automation and deep learning, inferring customers’ needs through analytics, and delivering the right content to the right customer at the right time across channels.

As the CDO sets and implements digital strategy and drives digital innovation across products, services, and processes, it’s key to measure the return on investment of any changes made. The CDO’s digital strategy should of course improve customer engagement and loyalty and/or drive new revenues. These KPIs demonstrate that the CDO is on the right track.

The Chief Digital Officer: Everything is Digital

Clearly, digital is not a business aspect that is simply painted over everything – rather, it must be infused throughout the organization to truly make an impact. Given that digital has become the heart of so many companies, it’s not surprising that over 100 CDOs have been promoted to CEO or company President.

Next time, a look at other roles within the C-suite.