Digital transformation started gathering momentum (before its more recent decline) in the early 2010s and the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role started popping up across more and more businesses.
Digital is all about culture, processes and ways of working. And generally the purpose of the CDO - to 'do' digital transformation - is to get the business to emulate the culture, processes and ways of working of companies born in the digital age. No simple task.
Yet it does feel (albeit anecdotally) that the number of CDO roles out there is slowly declining.
Here are a few reasons why this might be happening.
For a CDO, explaining what you actually do to busy senior colleagues who think you're there to run the website can be challenging. In reality, you're responsible for:
So the job title should probably be Chief Target Operating Model Officer (catchy, right?), but then...
In any role, your chances of success are increased if you have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This isn't the case at all for a CDO, so you're going to need lots of CEO-support to get things done!
No matter how much a CEO loves your vision for a digital future, getting the CEO to sign-off budget is much harder.
CEOs tend to be super-enthusiastic when appointing CDOs for the first time ("We need to be digital! We need to be disruptive! We need to be the Uber of our industry!") but when the silver bullet of overnight change doesn't materialise, the focus tends to go back to day-to-day fire-fighting and business-as-usual.
Competing for budget is no new thing, but for a CDO - in charge of transitioning to a future operating model - it's particularly tough when:
(These are all real life scenarios I've heard from CDOs.)
No matter how much a CEO loves your vision for a digital future, getting the CEO to sign-off budget and instruct other C-suite execs to play ball (when doing so doesn't support them hitting their targets) is much harder.
The term ‘digital’ will likely die out over the next few years as ‘digital’ operating models basically just become the business operating model.
The term 'digital' will likely die out over the next few years as 'digital' operating models basically just become the business operating model. And once this happens the Chief Digital Officer (who's really the Chief Target Operating Model Officer, remember) won't have much to do. Modern companies born in the digital era don't have anyone 'owning' digital after all.
If you're doing a role where you need to drive change into a business, then that role no longer exists once you've succeeded. So what will all our Chief Digital Officers end up doing? Gradually, CDOs seem to be moving to roles such as:
So a Chief Digital Officer role is a temporary one, driving through change so that the business takes on the culture, processes and ways of working of the companies born in the digital age. And once the change has happened - or at least the business is heading in the right direction - you may no longer need the role.
To be recruiting a CDO in 2019 is almost an admission to the world that:
Rather than recruit a CDO, your business may be better off educating senior managers as to digital operating models and ways of working. (We can help with this.)
If you're a Chief Digital Officer then hang on in there! More and more businesses do seem to be making progress and it feels like there's more momentum than ever to make change happen.
Oh, and do come along to our CDO roundtables which we run every 1-2 months - you'll get to share challenges and discuss potential solutions with a bunch of other CDOs and Digital Directors.
How exciting, let's get started