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CDOs in scarce supply at large global companies

Clint Boulton | Jan. 8, 2016
Only 6 percent of the top 1,500 global companies have chief digital officers, says consultant PwC. But it doesn’t matter, as the role is largely transitional in nature and the CIO continues to rule IT.

If you fall in to that category, you might agree with the perspective of SAIC CIO Bob Fecteau, who wrote in this recent blog post: "Appointment of people into positions like Chief Digital Officers (CDO), Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO) or other Chief Officers to support desired business needs are indicators that the CIO is not fully empowered, trusted, valued or cannot deliver the full breadth of support needed or is not the right person for the job. Efforts to separate job responsibilities of the CIO like these serve to dilute the authority, the budget and the scope of the CIO’s responsibility."

Fecteau further recommended that CEOs empower CIOs with the right authority, access and support for them to be effective. Let the CIO hire a digital director if necessary. It's incumbent on the CIO to demonstrate leadership and management skills that drives value for their companies/CEO. But don't hire a CDO to taunt him or her, Fecteau says.

The bull case for the CIO-CDO pairing

The relationship doesn’t have to end in a C-suite death match, however. Some CIOs-CDOs are comfortably sharing the responsibilities, providing a two-headed attack to the challenge of using business technology to spur growth. Witness McGraw-Hill Education CIO Angelo DeGenaro and CDO Stephen Laster, who form a one-two punch for a company with a lean IT staff.

Laster's team builds teaching and learning software, using a DevOps process of continuous deployment and integration. DeGenaro provides the infrastructure, operational uptime and security to support the digital products. "[DeGenaro] keeps our customers happy and whole, freeing my team up to understand deeply how teaching and learning happens with technology and create software products that fulfill those needs," Laster says.

DeGenaro meanwhile says it's crucial that he and Laster present a unified front and cultivate a high level of respect between the teams. "There may be some points of disagreement, but it's always handled professionally and egos never come into play here."

McGraw-Hill's CIO-CDO dynamic is likely the envy of other organizations where a CDO is introduced. Curran says he has seen the alternative scenario, in which some clients' CDOs have come into organizations like tornados, adopting cloud software with reckless abandon before they realized that they don't have a single view of their customer, social, supply chain, and operational data. Then they had to grudgingly turn to the CIO to integrate and normalize the data before they could analyze the data.

CEOs need to avoid such nightmare scenarios by fostering collaboration from the start. Enterprises must come to an explicit agreement around who is in charge and unify the strategy, IT, analytics and marketing departments. "Someone has got to be on point to own the single view of the investments, the strategies, the third-party relationships," Curran says. Failure to do so will lead to distraction, disruption, organizational chaos and, ultimately, wasted spending on competing technologies.

 

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