CIO or CDO? Do you fit the bill for the C-suite’s latest role?

David NicolsWhat do McDonald’s, Starbucks and L’Oréal have in common? They are all among the first global multinationals to appoint a chief digital officer (CDO) in addition to their existing CIOs.

My last two posts outlined what is driving the emergence of the CDO and what these new members of the C-suite will be mandated to do . But what implications does the CDO position have for CIOs?

The short answer is that, while the CDO will have responsibility for developing the organization’s strategic plan for digital and embedding this across the business, the CIO will increasingly focus on overseeing information technology (IT) service levels, performance delivery and security. Clearly, CDOs will need to work closely with CIOs, figuring out how best to align processes and systems to the needs of different business units.

More to play for
Of course, the exact picture will vary widely from one organization to another. But whether this is the precise split or not, CIOs should recognize the need to retain an active voice. It’s not a foregone conclusion that they won’t play a role in digital; but it will be, if they don’t make themselves heard.

As prior posts have highlighted, CIOs in some organizations are already working hard to deepen relationships with C-suite colleagues , such as chief marketing officers, in order to encourage business innovation through digital technology. These CIOs are branching out from their traditional remit to embrace the chance for greater interaction with the wider business.

For those who hope to see an opportunity either to retain digital within the CIO’s portfolio, or to make themselves available for a job as a CDO, this will be vital. And for those CIOs who hold wider ambitions, the CDO position can be highly attractive. The rise of digital will make it a key boardroom discussion point, and whoever leads on this will increasingly be given license to accelerate and deepen their organization’s digital transformation.

Some CIOs may already see themselves in that capacity, but the business may not yet view them in that way. Therefore, it is important that CIOs aiming to make the transition into a CDO role consider the following points:

  • Internal visibility
    CIOs should think about the perception of their role within the organization. The use of social media and other internal collaboration tools can help redefine CIOs as more than just providers of IT services.
  • External brand
    To demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in relation to the latest trends in their area, CIOs can seek to get published externally through articles or blogs, thereby positioning themselves as the innovative thinkers that many are. You’ll probably be surprised by how keen the specialist media will be to hear your view on digital.
  • Extracurricular activities
    Opportunities abound for CIOs to get involved in conference speaking, or even to sit on ad hoc committees for software companies and similar – all of which can add weight to your résumé.
  • Early adopters
    Becoming an eager early adopter of new technologies and software is a great way to lead on innovation practically, and to highlight the change you can bring to the business.

While it may be a while before the majority of organizations introduce CDOs, there is an increasing need for someone to take charge of digital transformation. Many leading multinationals are wasting no time in addressing this leadership gap. The challenge for CIOs is to ask themselves which side of the fence they want to end up on.


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