What is a Chief Digital Officer…

A Chief Digital Officer is sometimes hard to recognise but always difficult to forget… In todays digital economy they may well be the person to save the business and become the ultimate protector of shareholder value…

The skill set of a Chief Digital Officer is a broad mix of many things and is often confused as one thing or the other. Quite often they are pigeon holed into Marketing or Technology bias and focus. In reality the experiences, operational expertise, mindset, and capabilities of successful CDO’s not forgetting the other half of the role, as Chief Disruption & Growth Officer is quite different.

As they say it really is all in the mix…

And often this is why the very best CDOs end up as founder entrepreneurs who then go on to build businesses that break with all conventions and transform and fundamentally change industries. In some respects the good ones are unemployable yet very employable. New entrant CEOs are often CDOs both Chief Disruption and Digital types…

At the beating heart and the very existence of a Chief Digital Officer is the desire to make a difference to Customers, to challenge the norm, to turn a sector upside down and find new ways of reaching and delivering great customer experiences and outcomes. And to do this it looks like they break all the rules and try their hardest to rub the organisation the wrong way as the level of friction is sometimes intense. In many ways they are testing the breaking points, the tolerances and the responsiveness of things around them as a means to see how far they can push.

Don’t be fooled. They do not accept anything first time as they have accumulated a lot of knowledge experience, and they instinctively know what works and what doesn’t. They especially dislike half baked approaches and imposed transformation projects and timelines, they dislike people who don’t get the issues on the table for political convenience. They fundamentally understand and very conformable with change and they know from painful experiences transition only happens under certain conditions. They move at incredible pace. They need cover and sponsorship to operate effectively (hence they are more frequently found as new entrants CEOs) as they abandon large corporate so they can get things done on their terms. Because they see the future and want to get there first they refuse to compromise and often leave people behind who are then jettisoned if not on the bus.

CDO’s often come across as awkward, belligerent, even geeky but remain very demanding, testing everyone around them. They are tech savvy and fearless because they are used to having their ideas questioned and pulled apart. But don’t ask dumb questions. They are tough as old boots and have the confidence to go toe to toe with functional experts, not because they want to but because it is necessary to break down the barriers and get these domain experts to look up, to be open and see a much bigger picture. CDOs have a different outlook and measure of success, they expect to and are not afraid to fail, they accept mistakes and things do go wrong because they know this is the process to move forward.

The CDO sees and knows all. They understand the core concepts of everything, from how data moves around the organisation between information systems and functions, they know how to create and fulfil demand, understand how to deploy tech, the need to focus on how to get the attention of and keep customers; they like to develop strategies that kill the competition, and above all they know how to get stuff done in rapid time.

A CDO will fundamentally understand the construct of digital business models (mostly certainly in the past have built a digital business) and fully realise transformation is difficult if not impossible in most cases as organisational culture, fear of change and unwillingness to cannibalise the current business will get in the way. A CDO will always lean towards building new than amending or adjusting something already in place. They know this removes half of the barriers and improves their chances of success.

It takes time to acquire the knowledge and experience to become a CDO. Many claim to have what it takes. CDOs have the battle scars and the failures on the CV. They will happily explain what went wrong and what went well as a cathartic explanation to help heal the wounds. The best CDOs were often at the helm of some interesting outcomes.

They (CDOs) have what I call collect balance both large and small organisational experience, have been around start ups and understand scarcity of resources, they understand how to move mountains by demonstrating cause and effect, they do, they follow tech trends and above all understand the value of insight and data driven decision making. They constantly look for the next breakthrough, the next wave of tech, the example of digital success.

A CDO:

Is Operationally experienced often across difffrent sectors…

Is Tech Savvy specifically understand the construct of data and fundamentals of technology processing…

Understands the value of great Content and understand its impact on demand creation…

Works in both PULL and PUSH ways, inside in and outside out…

Get CX and that UX lies at the heart of everything that will deliver THE competitive advantage…

Lean towards decision based analytics for optimising and refining…

Know B2B and B2C is old thinking…

Understand the rules and hierarchal order of the Internet in digital terms…

They have developed and have their own Stack in mind…

Are often driven by bad customer experiences…

Refuses to accept it cannot be done…

Know and understand Growth models outperform conventional operating models and deliver new growth

AND AND…

For me CDOs understand that standard cost accounting has never worked and ROI in the digital world is measured in terms of happy returning customers; they realise management of organisations has been stuck in the same old ways for 90 years, that people have to be shown the way or they won’t change, that most customers are frustrated, most C level execs busk it in some way or all the way, that digital is more profound than the Internet and technology will ultimately solve everything but also create a new society…

(c) Copyright Digital BOOM 2015

Written by

Nick Ayton is a Deep Tech advisory to Boardrooms & Investors, Quantum Computing, AI, Blockchain specialist. Futurist speaker. Film Maker

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