Explaining the Explosion in Chief Digital Officers

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If you’re a marketing executive, chances are that you don’t work with a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) today. But if your company expects to stay ahead of the competition on the digital battleground, odds are you’ll have to be working with one in the next five years.

The CDO’s Meteoric Rise

In 2012, there were just 225 CDOs, according to the CDO Club. That figure has seen hockey stick-curve growth, to 1,000 in 2014.

chief digital officer executive search chart

Image modified from Deloitte

And that figure is expected to double this year to around 2,000.

This phenomenon is a result of digital strategy becoming core to overall corporate strategy. It’s graduating from its status as a part of the IT toolbox and becoming the foundation of doing business and maintaining growth while offering innovative and disruptive options that were previously impossible.

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“Our businesses are becoming more digital and our digital businesses are becoming more complex,” says Peter Hughes, national leader for delivery and operations at Deloitte Digital Canada. “We can’t just leave that complexity to our current C-suite. I think it is bearing the need for an accountable steward that brings to bear many capabilities.”

Analysis from Deloitte, in The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer, found that the CDO role was spreading globally. North America still leads with two out of three of the world’s CDOs. But surges in popularity of the role in Europe and Asia-Pacific have been huge contributors to the position’s growing prominence.

The role is most common in the advertising industry followed by media, publishing, nonprofit and retail sectors. While other industries grabbed smaller shares, there’s a good mix, indicating that the CDO role isn’t limited to a small group of sectors.

Other research also suggests that more companies are relying on CDOs– or similar professionals– to navigate the digital landscape. When a January 2015 study by Accenture asked executives worldwide about their progress in leveraging digital governance and decision-making, 80% of respondents said they had or were looking to hire a CDO or comparable role to maximize the ROI of online marketing dollars.

What a CDO Brings to the Table

The Chief Digital Officer exists to take the way you have always done business and transform it for today’s world while keeping you ahead for the changes coming tomorrow.

Consumers (both B2B and B2C) have become accustomed to being able to complete almost all interactions—from shopping and purchasing to customer service and engagement—online, at their convenience, and with a growing variety of electronic devices. The Chief Digital Officer uses technology, data, and user experience knowledge to improve company processes, engage consumers at the best possible times, and ultimately drive more business.

chief digital officer executive search table

Image modified from Deloitte

The exact mandate of the CDO will depend heavily on what company they work in. It’s a role that’s influenced by industry and a company’s digital charter. Companies that create products and market them will look for interactive marketing mastery; media and high-tech firms may want a leader to guide a complete digital renovation.

Despite its title, the CDO belongs just on the fringe of the C-Suite table at most organizations, reporting first and foremost to the CMO, but with a dotted line tying them to the CEO and CIO as well.

While digital transformation is being driven by CMOs, CIOs, and CEOs, the CDO unites that executive team and gives cohesion to the efforts. In many ways their goals will resemble that of the CIO and CMO. Indeed, they will often serve as team partners, translators and mediators for the two. But they won’t share the direct focus on branding, advertising, hardware and technical logistics, freeing them up for a more overarching view and strategic growth-oriented approach.

A talented and innovative Chief Digital Officer can serve as your CMO’s right-hand person devoted to utilizing the digital landscape to more effectively reach customers, and decrease the friction with which you conduct commerce. Ultimately, they’re preparing your company for the future and enabling growth.

Filling the CDO Chair

As the demand for qualified digital executive candidates continues to skyrocket around the world, many enterprises just starting their Chief Digital Officer executive search will find it to be a struggle.

The person that fills the role should understand technology capabilities, appreciate and value new media and how it enhances marketing, and can be a bit of an “organizational psychologist,” Hughes says.

As far as the other traits C-level executives want to see in their CDO, strong leadership skills and a positive attitude top the priority list. According to February 2015 study from Gap International conducted by Nielsen and Harris Interactive, US corporate executives were most likely to cite mindset/attitude (34%) and people skills/team building (31%).

As the demand for qualified digital executive candidates continues to skyrocket around the world, many enterprises just starting their Chief Digital Officer executive search will find it to be a struggle.

Companies have different options to go about creating the role of the CDO, the Deloitte report explains.  Some organizations may not need the dedicated expertise of a full-time executive hire, and instead bring in a CDO consultant or interim Chief Digital Officer to fill the gap. Others will wisely partner with a heavily-networked Chief Digital Officer recruiter to find the talent they need. There’s also the option of promoting a currently non-executive digital professional from within, centralizing digital tasks that are currently divided among several leaders, or most drastically–creating a new digital organization.

As digital only gets bigger, companies around the world will rely on CDOs to guide them through the continuous transformation. Those that don’t risk falling behind.

Article sources: eMarketer and itbusiness

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