The Dangerous Trap Of The Chief Digital Officer: Two Job Concepts, One Title

A chief digital officer (CDO) is responsible, at a high level, for driving growth by transforming analog business into digital business. In the past, the CDO was responsible for the transition from brick and mortar to digital. But for most companies, that transition is already complete. Despite that, when IDC released their CIO agenda for 2015, they wrote that “60% of CIO’s in global organizations will be supplanted by the [CDO] for the delivery of IT-enabled products and digital services.”

Larry Dignan’s response at ZDNet hit the nail on the head, “The CDO is a transition role. Every company on the planet will be digital and that means most execs will lean that way. A CDO position when everything is digital is a bit redundant.” 

Every executive in every company needs to think digitally. They need to think about the ramifications of every piece of data they compile about the efficiency of their organizations, the profitability of their customer interactions. 



So the question is, what then is the responsibility of the CDO? Is it simply transition? Is it a focus only on digital delivery and digital properties without more than a passing concern to the rest of the brand? Or could the CDO be poised to affect profound change within their organization? 

Neil Davey suggested in his great article, “Five data development that will challenge marketers in 2015,” that if the CDO is responsible for “tackling issues like stopping data from sitting in siloes and ensure that staff have the tools and skills needed to analyze, understand and implement insights,” then a CDO could be a boon to any organization looking to increase the profitability of customer interactions. To me, though, that is the job for a chief data officer.  But at this point, we’re just talking semantics.

The non-data-focused CDO, the one who is responsible for mobile and web, the one who walls off online data and keeps it from points of sale and catalog sales, that is the most dangerous CDO. That CDO can wreak havoc on an organization and, while sales might be going up online as a result of the current consumer ground, failure to fully integrate customer data and operations across the entire organization minimizes the value of each customer interaction and throttles potential profitability. How does a consumer see this, exactly? 

It looks like a highly content consumer who makes regular in-store and digital purchases yet is bombarded with emails for bargain offers and coupons despite their price insensitivity. It looks like a gold club customer who isn’t recognized in a special way at the register, or worse, on the website. It looks like wedding registrants who tally huge purchases online, yet are treated like any other “walk in” browser at the store. 

In the end, it looks like nothing short of leaving money on the table. 

In order for a CDO to be truly effective, they need to appreciate and evangelize the full integration of data and consumer processes across every branch of their organization. The data and processes need to inform everything that the company does, and it is only the best chief digital officers that can make that happen.

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