The Emerging Role Of The Chief Digital Officer

Chief Digital Officer

You can tell a lot about the strategic direction of a company by whom it is looking to hire. For example, Twitter’s job posting for a “financial reporting manager” last year sparked reports of the micro-blogging service preparing for an IPO.

Career listings can also say a lot about market trends and the trajectory of an industry. The role of the Chief Digital Officer is one that is appearing more and more as companies look to become digital businesses. But what do we mean by a digital business?

Mobile computing is driving profound changes in business. Not long ago, customers had to go to a company’s website to get information or buy goods. With the proliferation of mobile devices and apps, enterprises now have to go to their customers, wherever they are, connecting through digital information and services.

Recently, new kinds of digital services shaped by big data intelligence have emerged to create more personalised information and services, tailored for who customers are, where they are, and what they need at that moment.

With IDC predicting the installed base of the Internet of Things (IoT) to reach approximately 212 billion in 2020, this is largely due to radically increasing customer expectations. Consumers now expect information in real time, tailored to exactly who and where they are, and what they want.

This sophistication of digital technology and escalating customer expectations is creating new demands for enterprises. The imperative for businesses to move at “Internet speed” and achieve digital acceleration for a mobile-first world is clear; in fact, it’s proving to be the only way to create a sustainable competitive advantage today.

Today, every business needs to be a digital business – and a successful digital business strategy is more than having a website and delivering customer-facing mobile apps. Businesses must use digital technologies and competencies throughout an enterprise to fundamentally change the way they bring value to customers, partners and employees.

Digital businesses must have an all-encompassing digital vision and leadership, leveraging data across all business functions, from the top-down, as the only way to create sustainable competitive advantage.

The key question here is how can older ‘conventional’ companies compete in a world with newer businesses that emerged in the digital age? According to Boston Consulting Group, the digital revolution has already led to the demise, consolidation, and disappearance of many household-name companies. They were slow to grasp the changes taking place, and they failed to adhere to the first fundamental of the market economy: give customers what they want.

This is where the role of the Chief Digital Officer is becoming essential in any organisation, to help them drive growth by becoming a digital business. For companies seeking a digital leader, I’ve outlined below some of the roles necessary to unify an enterprise under a common digital strategy, driven by customers, partners, and employees who demand a mobile, digital experience:

1. Explain The Digital Strategy In A Simple Way

The first thing on the list of the CDO should be to explain, in a very simple way, how digital transformation will help the organisation meet the challenges of a mobile-first world, as well as “build a consistent experience for customers across different lines of business in order to produce network effects for the enterprise.

2. Earn Company-Wide Commitment

CDOs understand it’s about the customers and partners who depend on the enterprise, as well as its employees. It’s not just that they want to solve the problem of unifying the enterprise under a common digital strategy — it’s that they know how critical it is for business success. In an ideal world, a CDO would be a creative, driven leader who innately looks across departmental and corporate boundaries to solve large-scale problems.

3. Speak Multiple Business Languages

A CDO should have a background in business management, and therefore the language of P&Ls, KPIs, and change management should be natural to you. At the same time, they should have also spent years surrounded by developers working on everything from enterprise systems to mobile devices.

4. Understand What Success Looks Like

The CDO knows they can be successful, not just because they have passion and vision, but because they have spent years building a broad social network of business leaders and innovators. They’ve driven projects that have succeeded and they know why they succeeded; they have led projects that have failed and they know why they failed. They need to drive for tangible and measurable results relating to developing new revenue streams, achieving higher efficiency and enabling a faster time to market.

5. Keep The Strategy Fresh

It’s up to the CDO to keep communicating the organisation’s digital vision, adapting it as they learn more and simplifying it over time so that it’s embedded in every employee. The CDO should keep adapting the strategy over time to meet the movement of the market and the practicalities of execution.

6. Maintain Commitment To The Strategy

The CDO understands that digital innovation must be managed as a flywheel and not as a one-time project. They’re prepared to keep at this for the three to five years it will take, and have the emotional energy to keep overcoming “innovation fatigue” and entrenched resistance to change.

Sam Ramji

Sam Ramji brings approximately 20 years of industry experience in enterprise software, product development, and open source strategy. Prior to Apigee, Sam led open source strategy across Microsoft, where he and his team contributed code to the Linux kernel. He was a founding member of BEA's AquaLogic product team. Sam holds a B.S. in Cognitive Science from UC San Diego, and is a member of the Institute for Generative Leadership. He holds positions on the boards of the Outercurve Foundation, on the Open Cloud Initiative, and is a contributing editor to the ACM's journal Ubiquity.

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