Evolution of the CDO: is time almost up for the C-suite's digital kingpin?

The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) was brought into organisations to drive their crucial journeys towards cloud and digital proficiency. With many companies now having effective strategies in place, is it time for the CDO to step aside?

In the not too distant past, the role of the IT department within the enterprise was a relatively simple one. Essentially, it was all about ensuring efficiency through investment in new systems, automating processes, and facilitating access to a range of IT solutions and infrastructure. Viewed primarily as a cost-centre, IT bent to the will of the boardroom in every aspect, striving to deliver improved margins and arming service managers with everything they needed to succeed. It's not an understatement to suggest that, with the influx of digital transformation imperatives, this has changed dramatically in quite a small space of time.

The move towards digital has fundamentally changed how traditional organisations operate, shifting the goalposts of certain markets where digital start-ups have dramatically broken existing business models. IT in the modern era should now be seen as a driver of growth and revenue, as it creates value for customers in ways that weren't previously possible. In contemporary times, firms without a profound and comprehensive digital approach will simply find themselves unable to compete with those that do implement innovative digital initiatives, and this is becoming increasingly top-of-mind for companies of all sizes.

Ultimately, this raft of change has had a huge impact on the c-suite. Often, we think about how digital transformation might affect CIOs, but another tool that organisations have employed in the midst of the digital revolution is the Chief Digital Officer or CDO. These executives have been generally been charged with the monumental task of igniting the flame of digital transformation and ensuring that it spreads beyond the IT department to all aspects of an organisation.

By most measures, these ‘change agents' have done a decent job up until this point too. According to recent research from Harvey Nash and KPMG, companies classed as ‘digital leaders' are more likely to have appointed an acting or dedicated CDO, while organisations with a CDO are better placed to take advantage of digital technologies in many regards. This is an indication that appointing a CDO can be somewhat crucial to the success of digital transformation.

However, as many organisations successfully implement their transformation strategies, will this shift CDOs out of the equation? The role was always really supposed to be temporary, which was even recognised at the height of its popularity. The hope is essentially that when organisations succeed in becoming ‘digitally savvy', with ongoing and widespread strategies in place, there will no longer be any need for a CDO, as they are really only there to enact that change in the first place.

So when digital business becomes normal, why would you need a digital officer, and if you do, what factors should employers consider when it comes to appointing a CDO? In considering this, it's important to assess how has the role changed over time since it was first popularised, and what skills a CDO generally possesses.

The rise of the CDO

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