Beware The Chief Digital Officer

If I were to write a letter to my CxO brethren, I’d ask this: why the obsession with the chief digital officer?

A superhero of sorts, imbued powers us mere mortals can’t fathom, the chief digital officer (CDO) is typically charged with swooping in from on-high to make sense of the digital morass confronting companies. She’s to look at the IT infrastructure, the marketing systems, the sales and engineering needs and whip it all magically into shape. At least, that’s the well intentioned plan. As a chief marketing officer, I can tell you that you’d be much better served with an alternate approach. 

There’s a Larger Problem

The desire for a CDO is likely the manifestation of a larger problem, notably that your chief information officer and your chief marketing officer—and their respective teams—don’t effectively collaborate. The marketing team may be running rogue buying software systems without engaging IT, then expecting IT to figure out how to get the siloes to interface. Your IT teams may be so deep in the weeds that they don’t really understand the pain points of marketing and how they affect the company’s bottom line. Sound familiar? The answer becomes bringing in a CDO whose responsibilities traverse both disciplines. She earns a huge salary, makes a bigger mess than you began with, then leaves for another gig.



Just ducky.

Embracing Career Evolution

A better way is for your CIO and your CMO to work together, though a career evolution is in order. Each role must adapt to survive in our new digital economy. Persistent silos drive the balance sheet in the wrong direction, and must consequently be eliminated. It’s now essential for your CIO to become better attuned to the technology needs of marketing. These have expanded to include analytics, web integrations and the crafting of personalized digital experiences based on mounds of data. The CMO must get better trained on the technology platforms, technologies and data connections powering the marketing engine, but still controlled by IT. Together these roles can be the driving force behind the digital transformation sweeping our economy, but only if they work together.

It’s an uncomfortable place asking marketers to become technologists and developers to embrace the tenets of marketing. Most would rather swap bodies than minds. However breaking down these emotional barriers between teams is essential for your organization to move forward as a cohesive whole. Addressing concerns head-on will enable them to be overcome. Avoiding them leaves a growing mound under the carpet, only good for tripping.

Lose the Zebra

The challenge then becomes determining if you have the right leaders in place to successfully thrive in this new dynamic. It could be you don’t. If not, then the answer is to bring in new talent, rather than add a CDO to referee. A new CIO, CMO—or both, who are invested in the company vision for digital transformation, can make an immeasurable difference for your company and its long-term future.

While on the surface, a chief digital officer might seem like a smart solution to the challenges your company is facing, more likely, the talent you need is on-staff and ready to be harnessed in exciting new ways. Trust your people to transform.

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