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Is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) really the next new direct report to the CEO?

by Peter Sondergaard  |  July 24, 2013  |  4 Comments

One of the great things about my role is reviewing our research. This is how I mostly spend my all-too frequent travel time flying between continents. So while the latest movies are keeping my intrepid fellow travellers occupied for the long haul, I’m usually reading research as part of our peer review process or when it has just been published.

Somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, an interesting new research note really caught my attention on the need for a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) by Laura McLellan, Yvonne Genovese and Dave Aron. The authors explore the important question of whether the emerging digitalization of business creates a requirement for CEOs to have someone new report to them who is responsible for the enterprise wide digitalization of business. They also address whether or not business unit leaders need this role.

Of particular interest, the analysts note:

  • Not one but several roles of digital leadership are emerging
  • Some CIOs will add digitalization responsibility to their role but a large number do not yet have the capabilities or trust of the organization
  • The need for this role will vary dependent on industry and maturity of the organization

Clients can read the research note, including a toolkit on the Chief Digital Office, by clicking here.

The research note follows other pieces of research that Gartner has written over the past year about the CDO role. It is clear to us that as organizations continue to digitalize processes, client facing activities, their products and/or services, there is a growing need for business leaders to add a deep level of understanding of technology to their skills. As every budget in an organization gradually becomes digitalized, this need grows.

But here’s the question. Does this requirement lead to the need for a new, separate role reporting to the CEO? Even to a business unit leader? And if so, is this role really sustainable long term? In a recent conversation I had with the CIO of a large global retailer we discussed just this question. We came to the conclusion that the answer is no. Why?

Three reasons:

  1. Organizational roles that are persistent in time carry a degree of accountability, budget and potentially people responsibility. I am not sure long term the CDO does.
  2. The aggregate responsibility of a CEOs management team changes only slowly. While technology has disrupted this statement, externalizing the responsibility from the current roles reporting to the CEO rarely leads to long term sustainable impact.
  3. Digitalization is a management skill set that will developed by many members of the leadership team, but it is not a separate role

This still makes the role of the CDO important, but mainly as a change agent, a role that will assist the CEO and perhaps boards of companies in the process of change driven by digitalization.

Now onto the next research note with 1000 more miles of cruising altitude to go before that friendly reminder to turn off all our electronic devices.


Tags: symposium  

Peter Sondergaard
Former Executive Vice President, Research & Advisory
25 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Peter Sondergaard was an executive vice president and member of Gartner’s operating committee. He led the company’s Research & Advisory organization until August 2018.

Thoughts on Is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) really the next new direct report to the CEO?

  1. James Hay says:

    Good points, all pointing to the CEO needs to be the “CDO”, at least to help his or her organization adapt and evolve. Yes, CEO’s need to focus outward – customers, competition, threats, opportunities – but every now and again CEOs must look back over their shoulders to make sure the hamsters on the wheels aren’t getting too tired, or don’t have wheels that can help them keep up and get ahead.

    I might suggest, however, that there’s probably a number of companies in such a state as to warrant CDO consideration – a CDO role would not only be helpful, but in some cases necessary for the CEO to establish in order to help in that transformation, even if only for several years (and no, I don’t offer that as a CDO-wannabe :>) ).

    For those that do go the CDO route, it’ll be interested to watch how that role evolves along with the technologies… Thanks for the note!

  2. Excellent points and I think it calls for an examination of some of the traditional roles. The role of the CIO is evolving and causing some aspects of the role to fade. Infrastructure and internal systems are increasingly outsourced to cloud providers, data centers are as much hub as they were the spokes in past days. Business users are hungry for more ways to touch customers and create direct digital links to them.

    A Chief Customer Officer is the opportunity for next-gen or would-be CIOs as this generation begins to look for retirement.

    The Chief Customer Office would be responsible for areas such as:

    -Customer Retention

    -Partner Ecosystem

    -Enterprise Asset Enablement (e.g., Big Data deployment and analytics, Workforce Mobility)

    -Collaboration and Employee Knowledge Management (I don’t believe there is such a thing as Enterprise Knowledge Management, and that’s a subject for another time)

  3. […] this begs the obvious question from the CEO: I thought we were supposed to hire a chief digital officer? Is this some kind of CDO-bake-off? I’ll explore this in my next […]

  4. […] this begs the obvious question from the CEO: I thought we were supposed to hire a chief digital officer? Is this some kind of CDO-bake-off? I’ll explore this in my next […]

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