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Chief Digital Officer: Hot new tech title or flash in the pan?

Todd R. Weiss | July 30, 2013
Enterprises like Sears, Starbucks and Harvard are hiring Chief Digital Officers to help monetize digital content, better connect with customers and drive their businesses forward. But does every company need one?

It's perfectly natural to create a C-level role when the technology is new, but ... you can be a digital company without having a CDO. Mark McDonald, Gartner

Which leads to the question: will the CDO craze last, or is it simply an interim title useful in the short term for corporations undergoing digital transformation?

Sreenivasan says CDOs are new and needed today (and notes that Columbia plans to hire a replacement CDO to fill his position), but acknowledges that could certainly change in the future. "I imagine there was once a chief telephone officer at Columbia long ago, but that wasn't needed after people figured out how to use the phone. This job could go that way, that someday they won't need somebody with this title."

McDonald, the Gartner analyst, agrees. "It's perfectly natural to create a C-level role when the technology is new, but as the organization builds an understanding of that technology, it works its way back into core operations. You can be a digital company without having a CDO."

Nigel Fenwick, an analyst with Forrester Research, said he certainly sees the role of a digital content leader, but not necessarily the CDO title, sticking around for enterprises.

"There's a need to put your arms around your digital business, absolutely," says Fenwick. "I completely believe that that is going to be a strategy for businesses going forward. This is partly why the executive level sometimes has to shake things up a bit to get things where they need to get to. [The CDO title] is one way of doing it."



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