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Redefining the role of the Chief Digital Officer

The role of the Chief Digital Officer, or, alternatively the Chief Data Officer, is one where the job description is fluid. This reflects the uneven pace of most business development, as companies twist and turn on their digital transformation journeys and review each disruptive challenge that’s thrown at them.

The role of the Chief Digital Officer within a corporation is to define the company’s digital strategy and to take charge in executing its cross-functional transformation, so that the firm transforms into a fully digital enterprise. This isn’t a one-off process, of course, given the extent of change across all sectors.

What would or should a CDO do?

As it stands, many companies do not have a Chief Digital Officer or Chief Data Officer in place and those that do are still trying to pin down the full-scope of duties. Just a couple of years ago, out of the world’s top 1,500 companies, only 6 percent had already created the position of Chief Digital Officer or equivalent.

With the Chief Data Officer role, by 2018 a recent Forrester survey shows that 51 percent of organisations have appointed a Chief Data Officer, with another 18 percent planning to do so. The types of duties were varied, encompassing enterprise data architect, data quality and governance manager, business strategy leader, business regulation compliance officer.

According to PwC’s annual Digital IQ Survey, many companies that have determined they need a digital thought leader are continuing to struggle to find the right executive who matches the required strategic goals. Add to this there is the complexity of finding the right person who is in tune with digital business model and understands the company’s digital capabilities and operations, both now and future state.

Furthermore, the person needs to have considerable experience (not easy, given the relatively newness of the role); plus the usual tick-lost of right personality, demonstrable leadership abilities, and self-determination to see projects through to completion.

Archetypes of the Chief Digital Officer

To help companies find the right Chief Digital Officer for their particular business, PwC has developed five traits, or what they call “archetypes”. These are, as outlined on Strategy&: the progressive thinker, the creative disrupter, the customer advocate, the innovative technologist, and the universalist. These types are designed to provide an indication of the potential range of roles and responsibilities that the new C-level position might be engaged with.

In summary, these roles translate as:

The progressive thinker: This officer’s mission is to think imaginatively in relation to how the business can be transformed through digitization. The person will provide the inspiration as the company attempts to go fully digital.

The creative disrupter: This executive sets out to offer a more hands-on approach to the continuous development of new digital technologies and business models and solutions.

The customer advocate: These types of officers are primarily market-driven and customer satisfaction oriented.

The innovative technologist: This executive is keen to promote new digital technologies throughout the organization, both inside and customer facing, embracing the Internet of Things, mobility, social media, and analytics.

The universalist: This officer seeks to manage all aspects, and all value-creation levers, of a complete digital transformation. The role is describes by PwC as the “most visionary of the five archetypes.”

Success with each of these roles will be is hard to judge initially, especially since the role is not yet well defined; however, failure will be very obvious.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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