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Look! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's the "CDO"

New technologies offer new possibilities. As organizations build their Digital DNAs to engage better with consumers, create omni channel strategies and digitize all business functions, the role of a CDO (Chief Digital Officer) is imperative to sustained innovation and business success.

But, the challenge most organizations face is to find clarity and definition for the CDOs role, and then to find an individual with super-human capabilities who can practically match all of the following roles effectively:

>> Chief Digital Marketer, Chief Data Officer, Chief Innovator, Chief Consumer Experience Officer and So on...

If we step back from this for a moment, we could say that what they are really describing as a CDO could also be called "Chief Everything That Needs to Change as a result of Digital Officer" – or "Chief Bring the Company into the 21st Century Officer".

Some pundits (and plenty of headhunters) insist a CDO is vital to push through rapid change in organisations that have been slow to embrace the new opportunities and threats presented by digital disruption. They argue that CDOs often need to be parachuted into situations where others in the executive suite lack the necessary skill-set or firepower to implement digital transformation.

In reality, The CDOs role is to effectively re-orient the whole business around the customer, while aligning the organisation behind this change. Therefore, digital transformation is a collective effort flowing top down. To be able to effectively leverage from Digital Transformation, the following points about "Demystification of a CDOs Role" need to be understood:

1) Organisational Structure

I'm often asked in Executive forums, should CDO report to marketing (CMO) and be responsible for digital marketing, sales and commerce; or should it be independent of marketing and report directly to the CEO to drive transformation?

Well, here's my take : There is a dotted line of responsibility between some aspects of marketing, IT and operations as related to the customer experience. Boundaries and responsibilities are fluid between the CDO, CIO and CTO. If customer experience is key, then the CDO should lead the STF (Special Task Force) for transformation, assisted by other C-Suite executives to be able to inject innovative thinking into every process in the organization.

2) In-House or Virtual CDO

Another common problem that most consumer facing organizations face is "how to find an individual with the right experience and knowledge to lead their digital transformation initiatives"?

Well, here's my take : Talent is a scarce resource. More so in 'Digital' because of the sheer newness and fast pace of change in this field. There are two approaches organizations can take. Either hire a full-time resource, or appoint a Virtual CDO who comes in to Coach, Consult and Execute the digital transformation initiatives. In both cases, what is paramount is that the chosen individual needs to be a universalist who can oversee the spectrum of possible digital tasks: guiding the development of digital strategy as part of overall corporate strategy; devising new business models; overseeing digital marketing and the customer experience; implementing digital technologies; boosting operational efficiency; and digitizing the ways in which employees do their work.

3) Progressive Thinker or Creative Disruptor

Whether your organization needs a Progressive thinker or a Creative Disruptor?

Well, Here's my take: You need a Progressive Thinker if your organization's mission is to think imaginatively and implement new-age solutions for innovation ( For Example, using IoT/Beacons to improve industrial efficiency). This approach is suitable for more traditional industries to benefit fully from digitization. Whereas, Creative disruptors are needed where there's a requirement of a more hands-on involvement in developing new business models or technologies (For example, increasing revenues from online sales of an FMCG Brand). This approach is suitable for consumer-oriented industries to derive max customer lifetime value.


It turns out that many companies hire the CDO before completely defining and understanding the role. In conclusion, the CDO needs to excel at six key roles in order to be truly effective:

1) Make digital integral to the organisation strategy

2) Lead Digital Innovation across functions

3) Audit and Improvise the existing Digital Portfolio

4) Keep Customer at the center of everything

5) Build agility, speed and data

6) Get stuff done


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