An executive role that I increasingly come across, especially at Fortune 1000 companies, is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

According to Wikipedia, “A Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is an individual who helps a company, a government organization, or a city drive growth by converting traditional ‘analog’ businesses to digital ones, and oversees operations in the rapidly changing digital sectors like mobile applications, social media and related applications, virtual goods, as well as ‘wild’ web-based information management and marketing.”

In other words, the CDO is traditionally responsible for driving the digital transformation of business services. A technology thought leader named Theo Priestly argues in a recent Forbes article, “Say Goodbye to the Chief Digital Officer,” that the CDO position is destined to disappear. He reasons that the ‘digital transformation’ the media loves to speak of has already occurred across enterprise, and that the CDO responsibilities can be accomplished by other executive roles. While Priestly’s argument might be accurate (for certain organizations at least), his prediction has not panned out, according to the 3.4k (and growing) CDO professionals currently listed on LinkedIn.

The reason is that the CDO role is transforming (pun very much intended). The role is no longer solely focused on taking an organization through a massive digital transformation, but instead focused on improving the functionality, customer experience, and profitability associated with existing digital platforms and services.

So what is a CDO today? Where do they come from? Is there consistency across organizations? These were the questions I had when perusing the profiles of roughly 100 CDOs on LinkedIn. It was interesting to find that there were three major trends in the backgrounds of today’s CDO, which remained consistent with trends in their current responsibilities.

Nearly every CDO I came across was previously a CTO/CIO, a COO, or a CMO.

The Former CTO/CIO

The CDO with a CTO/CIO history is one with a deep technical background blended with a passion for business strategy. They have strong experience in cloud computing, enterprise architecture, product development, data analytics, IT Operations and Service Management, etc.. They are specialists in the development of new products, services and systems to meet the demands of their organization’s digital strategy. This individual is typically responsible for designing and delivering digital solutions and capabilities to improve their organization’s business performance and overall customer experience.

The Former COO

The CDO with a COO background is someone who understands all business units and how they need to interact to effectively deliver a quality digital experience. This person is typically responsible for managing and optimizing all of their organization’s digital assets, like websites, mobile sites, connected apps, online media, digital content, etc.. Furthermore, this person is deeply involved in driving digital platform innovation, financial planning and analysis, sales strategy, customer experience and customer analytics.

The Former CMO

The CDO with a CMO background is an expert in digital and product marketing, with heavy experience in data analytics. They are highly involved with the growth of new digital platforms and understand how to leverage technologies to understand and improve customer experience. This individual owns efforts involving display, search, social media, CRM, and integrating digital touch points to report into the customer’s digital experience. Furthermore, they are the driving force behind customer analytics, retention and loyalty programs.

Evolution of the Chief Digital Officer

So what does this tell us? The CDO is a different person than they were a few years ago. They are the primary stakeholder in driving the competitiveness of their digital business services. Furthermore, the CDO tends to comes in three different flavors, and based on the organization and the needs and vision of that organization, the background and skill sets of a certain CDO may be a better fit than the others.

But at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the CDO to deliver new (digital) products and features while ensuring high quality of service and customer experience. They need to be the leader to promote the adoption of latest service assurance technologies, necessary culture shifts and the customer first mentality.

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