With about a third of companies now saying they have a Chief Digital Officer, according to McKinsey’s latest research, it’s a role that is becoming more mainstream. Many folks still don’t know exactly what a CDO does — and indeed it varies a bit based on the specific needs of each organization.
The following thirteen roles apply to most CDO’s, however, regardless of whether they are in a corporation, non-profit, government agency, or educational institution.
The Chief Digital Officer as Change Agent
Organizations without a strong digital culture have been the first to adopt the CDO role. And that makes sense. A high-tech startup has digital as part of its DNA in most cases, but legacy organizations need someone to help give it a push into the digital era. The CDO works with the executive team to effect change that better integrates digital tools, tactics, and strategies to help achieve organizational goals. (read more about this role)
The Chief Digital Officer as Evangelist
Most CDO’s have a real passion for innovation and technology — and they want to impart it internally and externally as part of their job. They will find time to talk to as many audiences as possible about the changes taking place and the tools available to make organizations more effective. This passion helps translate the value of change to others who can collaborate to make a difference. (read more about this role)
The Chief Digital Officer as Analyst
With the pace of change in online and mobile applications, hardware, and software, the CDO can never rest on yesterday’s information. There’s always something new to learn and products to test. In addition, the volume of data available to help determine the most effective path forward demands that the CDO spend a lot of time researching and analyzing tools and trends. (read more about this role)
The Chief Digital Officer as Advisor
The CDO must be absolutely comfortable offering candid and understandable advice to the CEO and other organization leaders. As important, the CEO and other executives must have complete confidence in the CDO to provide this input. In addition, the CDO must be viewed as a peer to the other C-level executives in order to ensure that digital initiatives get the attention and resources they deserve.
The Chief Digital Officer as Communicator
Gone are the days when the tech guru can be the shy, pocket protector type. A good CDO must be confident in the ability to communicate ideas and options to a variety of audiences. In addition, the CDO must have a knack for using technology to make the organization a more effective communicator as a whole.
The Chief Digital Officer as Technologist
While the CDO must be able to have a human conversation with people not adept at technology, it’s vital to be able to have enough knowledge about technology to be taken seriously by the digital implementers on staff. Developers, designers, IT teams, and other technology experts within the organization have little patience for those who don’t understand their needs and challenges, so the CDO must be prepared to talk competently about their own expertise.
The Chief Digital Officer as Educator
The best digital tools and tactics serve little purpose if members of the organization don’t understand how to use them effectively. The CDO must be able to develop effective training programs to bring technological advances to the entire team.
The Chief Digital Officer as Translator
Just as the CFO helps an organization better understand financial performance and key indicators, the CDO must be able to explain why some tools work better than others, why the organization should try different approaches, and explain the need for particular resources. The CDO serves as an important intermediary between those who develop and manage the technology and those responsible for allocating resources and adjusting organizational strategy.
The Chief Digital Officer as Integrator
Many organizations find themselves with digital initiatives scattered throughout different corners of the operation. Trying to tie them together — and then uniting them with the overall organizational strategy and goals — represents an important challenge for any CDO.
The Chief Digital Officer as Problem Solver
Technology enables organizations to solve many problems, so the CDO will often find themselves in meetings designed to find solutions not just to obvious digital challenges, but also everything from human resources issues and internal communications to product development or sales and customer service. Being adept at cutting to the essence of a problem and developing creative approaches makes a CDO a vital part of the executive team.
The Chief Digital Officer as Risk Manager
Many organizations have a healthy fear of the role of technology. Some even have an unhealthy level of concern. The CDO must work to use all of the tools available to develop technological and business process and policy approaches that will minimize the risk of new approaches. By establishing an atmosphere that embraces experimentation and innovation while controlling exposure, the CDO helps increase the digital profile of any organization.
The Chief Digital Officer as Efficiency Expert
With digital initiatives popping up across the organization, the CDO must figure out the best way to coordinate and streamline the tools and services being used to maximize the available resources. Too often large organizations find themselves paying for many similar platforms when coordination could make it easier for employees to collaborate — and save money and time in the process.
The Chief Digital Officer as Measurement Maven
One of the greatest advantages of technology is the ability to acquire and mine large quantities of data to make better decisions. A CDO must have a strong understanding of the key performance indicators for the organization and a plan for how to work with others to deliver accurate data in a timely fashion. Being able to take raw data and translate it into meaningful analysis of the metrics makes the CDO an invaluable asset to the organization.