The rise of the chief digital officer

How the CDO plays the role of culture broker in a technology world to help companies achieve the digital transformation needed to win in the application economy.

Let’s start out with a question. Does anyone know what the following names on this list have in common?

• Jim Mullen (Ladbrokes)

• Jean-Briac Perrette (Discovery Networks)

• Charlie Redmayne (HarperCollins UK)

• Paul Gunning (DDB Chicago).

The safe answer, of course, is that they’re chief digital officers (CDO). Well, that would have been the right answer at one point during their careers, but times have changed. While each formerly had held the title of CDO, today they all have risen to the top within their respective companies and are now chief executive officers.

Increasingly over the past few years the CDO title has risen in prominence and is now seen as a promising route to CEO. In 2013, seven chief digital officers became CEO or president of their companies, while four became board directors, according to research conducted by the CDO Club.

Even the White House is getting into the mix, recently announcing it’s first-ever CDO, Jason Goldman, who will oversee digital outreach for the White House, and lead the Office of Digital Strategy,

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Why is the CDO now being seen as critical to business and government success? A lot of it really has to do with organizational culture, DNA and the ability to compete at the speed at which technology is advancing. The CDO’s mission is to develop a digital vision that aligns with business goals and strategy, and drives change through digital initiatives and deliverables that improves a company’s competitive position. To do this, there’s a fair amount of negotiating among teams to gain support for the digital transformation that will drive business success.

CMO and CDO: natural allies in digital transformation

Digital trends have reshaped industry boundaries and shifted the competitive landscape introducing new threats but more importantly opening up new opportunities. Marketing is an organization that can engage those opportunities with digital initiatives. There are four key areas chief marketing officers are focusing on where digital investment can help:

• Make it easier for prospects to review and buy products

• Gather insights on customers through any channel they do business

• Improve brand through a better customer experience

• Develop new markets through new channels

If the CMO is not driving digital initiatives for these business focus areas, the CDO can work with the organization to make it happen. The CDO must broker any digital advancement for these areas with the CIO to gain IT support and reduce the risk of shadow IT. This task may not be as easy as you think.

The culture and DNA within an IT department differs from that of marketing. While both departments share the same desire for business success, their contribution may be viewed by each differently. IT, for example, may have the reputation of being inwardly focused, not dealing directly with customers, and wanting longer due diligence and testing of solutions.

Marketing, on the other hand, is typically on the front lines with customers uncovering their demands, and it needs to respond with solutions that are agile and improve the overall customer experience. The CDO can help bridge that divide, and once implemented, these digital initiatives will have far reaching benefits across the company.

Supporting the CMO through CDO initiatives

In order to support the business and CMO, the CDO must properly prioritize some of the major trends we see in our daily lives: mobile apps, cloud services, Internet of Things, Big Data.

Here’s a list of digital initiatives that most CDO’s are thinking about today in support of CMO goals.

• Accelerating Mobile App Development: Reach prospects with quality apps allowing for real-time research and purchasing that enhances the overall customer experience and relationship;

• Improving Omni-channel Engagement: Provide customers access to information and services from the storefront to web and mobile, improving brand through better engagement;

• Improving Service Delivery through the Internet of Things: Leverage devices and machines such as the automobile, home appliance, utility, wearable or medical device that provides more customer insight for innovation and better product development and services;

• Open data and capture new markets: Discover new products and services through data collected, developing new markets and monetizing information through new channels;

• Unlock data silos and optimize value chain: Unlock information between technology partners to improve the supply chain and in-turn service delivery, positively impacting the customer experience.

All those digital initiatives are about improving the customer experience. And that’s what we, as consumers, expect; we want an engaging experience no matter how and where we’re doing business.

But what’s the path of engagement? How does the CDO launch those digital initiatives? We know it will involve a fair amount of cultural sensitivity, but technically, what will it take?

Three letters can answer those questions: API (Application Programming Interface to be exact). Whether it’s creating new sources of revenue in the front-office, or unlocking data siloes on the backend, APIs are at the heart of these digital initiatives and their resulting successes.

For more information on the role of the CDO and CMO and how APIs and API Management will support their initiatives please attend the following webinar, Mastering Digital Channels Through APIs.


CA Director of API Management Product Marketing. Tyson Whitten is a CISSP with 15+ years…

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