21 November 2015

Isn't it about time Chief Digital Officers went away?


Diagram credit: @MarthaHeller
Despite being pronounced dead a few times the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role still seems to be going strong. Unfortunately, it is quite hard to tell if this resilience is down to the merits of the role or just mislabelling. These days, people have a tendency to add "digital" to quite ordinary things to make them sound more exciting and special - the letter "e" used to have the same magical effect, as in E-Business. For example, a recent poll by @marthaheller asked CIO's where they thought the digital department should reside - the results are above. It seems unlikely that Martha's followers had a common idea about what a digital department was for. In order to help, here is my digital department field guide. Are there any species of digital that I have missed?

Online Marketing

Some of the CIOs were probably thinking of a department focused on web sites, mobile apps and social media. This might be run by an internet-savvy marketing lead and report into the Marketing function.

Collaborative Business Strategy

Others will have been thinking about the way the internet can reduce barriers to collaboration to enable new forms of partnership such as co-creation. A department which considered this kind of digital might fit well in a Corporate Strategy function or the Office of the CEO.

Business Transformation

If digital was taken to mean catching up with modern electronic business practices then a digital department might be part of a large business transformation programme. These modern business practices might include clever use of data so that you can take action based on outcomes and risk rather than procedure and routine

Up To Date IT Infrastructure

I suspect most CIOs were thinking about mobile and public cloud infrastructure and new practices such as continuous delivery and DevOps. These topics would not be out of place within IT but could just be called "up to date IT" rather than "digital".

Information Exploitation

More forward thinking CIOs will be working out how to capture all of their organisation's information in digital form (a lot of information is still trapped in physical or tacit form) so that it can be processed by a computer. This should be one of the core concerns of a real Chief Information Officer but, in my experience, these are actually very rare creatures.

Modern Business Operations

My guess is that about 20% of CIOs recognise that digital is just an adjective which can be applied to anything. Much of what is currently labelled as digital is just best practice in product development, business operations and customer service and a good Chief Operating Officer should take all of this in their stride.

Related blog posts


You Don’t Need A Digital Strategy, You Need A Digitally Transformed Company by Tom Goodwin

Adapt, disrupt, transform, disappear: The 2015 Chief Digital Officer Study

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