Does my organisation need a Chief Digital Officer (CDO)?

Does my organisation need a Chief Digital Officer (CDO)?

With digital transformation a strategic priority for many organisations in 2017, a lot of companies have been asking Crimson whether they need to appoint a Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

Over the last few of years, a lot has been reported about the rise of the CDO role. There are currently many different perspectives on this position… ‘Why do digitally savvy companies need a Chief Digital Officer?’ ‘Are CDOs a threat to CIOs?’ and so on. At Crimson, we know that more organisations are now appointing CDOs and other digital specialists and to reflect this we have highlighted their pay scales in our IT Salary Survey for 2017. (In this report, we revealed that digital specialists within IT teams are paid more than their ‘non-digital’ colleagues – download your copy to see how your salary compares.)

But the real question is “Do organisations actually NEED Chief Digital Officers?”. The answer is “It depends on your organisation’s unique requirements”. If your company is looking to add a digital offering to your services and you want to drive digital change, and your technology leaders (CIO and CMO) are busy dealing with other matters, or lack experience in this area, then yes you need a CDO. Technology articles on and Forbes have argued that CDOs have a “shelf life”. They suggest that an organisation may not need a CDO once the individual has achieved their initial mandate – to help the company to ‘think digitally’ and to launch digital products and processes. refers to the CDO role as the ‘transformer in chief’ and has also suggested that once a CDO has made ‘digital’ integral to an organisation’s strategy, increased focus on customer experience (based on data), improved agility and speed, and extended the organisation’s networks, their role may then have to change – possibly to become the CEO.

So, the next question is: “How do we identify whether we need a CDO or can our CIO and CMO handle the transformation?”. Your board will need to consider several factors – here are some questions that they need to ask of themselves:

* Is our marketplace undergoing—or vulnerable to—significant disruptive changes?

* Are we ready to move beyond basic digital experiments and embark on a fundamental and integrated transformation?

* Are we ready to announce our digital-transformation efforts internally and externally?

* Do we need a disruptive perspective from someone who can objectively and credibly challenge us with a ‘digital first’ approach?

* Does our leadership team have the capacity to steward a digital transformation?

The final myth to dispel is “Are CDOs a threat to CIOs?”. In my last article for CIO WaterCooler, ‘Talent shortages and other CIO challenges for 2017’ I addressed this argument. To summarise, Crimson’s IT recruitment consultants have raised this issue with several top 100 CIOs and their response is always the same: “I leave job titles at home and I’m happy to collaborate with CDOs and the rest of the board to achieve my organisation’s objectives”.

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