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Why the Chief Digital Officer role Is on the rise

Rich Hein | Nov. 20, 2013
Whether you think it's part of a transitional period or here for the long-term, the Chief Digital Officer role is gaining ground as more conventional companies look to invest in an enterprise-wide digital transformation.

Today, technology is coming at organizations from seemingly every angle thanks to social media, mobile technology, big data, analytics, reporting, infrastructure, storage and more. How can older "traditional" companies' compete in a digital world with newer companies that were born in the digital age?

A Chief Digital Officer (CDO) may be the answer. However, this role is new, untested and is still in a state of evolution. "The current CDO will not have a 'fixed in stone' job description and will constantly watch for the other skills and roles that other CDOs play", says Andy Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group.

What Is a Chief Digital Officer?
The digital age is here and as more companies get onboard with the task of converting old school business into the digital world, the need for a seasoned technology and business veteran to tie all things digital together is growing, according to a recent study from Apigee, a company that works with larger enterprise organizations to develop API's and apps.

"As mobile technology and data analytics completely reshape the business landscape, building a truly digital business DNA is an imperative for survival in today's competitive app economy. Many companies are seeking CDOs to lead this enterprise-wide transformation," said Bryan Kirschner, director of the Apigee Institute.

Specifically how the Chief Digital Officer fits into the organization will vary from business to business, according to Tricia Blair, Chief Digital Officer at Lincoln Financial Group, but the CDO would conceivably be a very tech-savvy individual who truly understands the business and the vision of where the organization wants to go.

The CDO is not there to make technology decisions or run the company infrastructure. It's a transformative role that is being used to break up the siloed functions within organizations. The CDOs are more about analyzing the data and how it relates to the business and customer experience. "The way to best describe the CDO is that you need to be a silo-buster connecting different disciplines and departments," says Gilman.

Blair notes that her CDO peers in different organizations have varied hierarchy, but with Lincoln she considers the CIO and CMO peers, as opposed to reports. At Lincoln the three core components of her position include the Web, social media and mobile technology. As CDO she sees the role as the third leg in a good foundation. "There's a focus that the CMOs take, a focus that the CIOs take and the focus of the chief digital officer that really makes for an extraordinarily strong partnership in a world that continues to get much more complex," says Blair.

CDO Role on the Rise
CDOs are being implemented primarily as a change agent as older traditional businesses work to transform themselves to a digital world. For this reason, some argue that the CDO might just be a "transformational phenomenon." The answer however is yes according to Gartner Analyst, Dave Aron's recent blog post, "The Chief Digital Officer is emerging and maturing as a role fast."


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