CDOs’ mission incomplete

Chris Gabriel, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at Logicalis Europe, takes a look at the role of the CDO and why, just possibly, the CDO may outlast the CTO and CIO.

According to the CDO Club, CDO hires have been doubling every year. In 2012 Gartner said the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) will be the most exciting strategic role in the decade ahead. Their playground is “where the enterprise meets the customer and where the revenue is generated.” Their role is to dynamically advance their company’s performance through digital technologies and strategies. McKinsey refers to them as Transformers-in-Chief.

The IT equivalent’s circle of life

Personally, I’m interested in what McKinsey has to say about the true measure of a CDO’s success. Often a CDO is brought in when the CEO realises the organisation can’t meet the primary challenge of creating integrated transformation. McKinsey suggests that if a CDO then achieves this, their role should become defunct. They have completed their mission.

In theory, I agree. The practice however, is quite different. The vast majority of organisations have not reached this level of maturity, and even if they do, the case for transformation will never end.

Change begets more change. When companies start to innovate and services are improved, expectations are raised. These expectations – from stakeholders, customers etc. place further pressure on companies to keep up the good work. Given that IT never stands still – there is always an opportunity for development and a ceaseless necessity to compete – particularly when nimble digital start-ups are disrupting marketplaces left, right and centre.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say, the need to keep innovating is the business equivalent to the need to keep breathing. In the words of the American Economist, Ted Levitt, “Just as energy is the basis of life itself… innovation [is] the vital spark of all human change, improvement and progress”.

Repackaging the goods

So we don’t expect CDOs to work themselves out of a job, rather we expect them to become more engaged with companies like us. In our annual review, we note that we are actively working alongside Chief Digital and Data Officers to build new applications, disrupt business processes, transform their approach to existing and new forms of data and deliver sustainable business change.

In reality ‘digital’ repackages existing capabilities, skills and solutions; what’s new is the value businesses are extracting from them. For instance, we’re modernising architectures, building next-generation automated data centres, enabling high-speed wireless access, securing IT infrastructure and redefining them for a new audience, to create relevance for lines of business and CDOs.

The endeavour will never end and the opportunities we can extract from technology will never reach saturation. We can see this in the rebirth of mainframe technology. Rather than being a legacy headache, through new capabilities, the mainframe is powering critical workloads and supporting Third Platform mobile applications.

The position of the CDO may not be defined by infrastructure or hardware like the CIO and CTO roles, but it is defined by innovation in perpetuity; meaning innovation borne out of traditional staples, but underpinned with a new source of turbo power and a fresh take on progress.

Tags Digital Transformation, Digital, CDO, IT Transformation