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How to find a good Chief Digital Officer

A recent report issued by the World Economic Forum predicts that 75 million jobs will be lost, but 133 million new jobs created through digitisation by the year 2022*. One of the most interesting new positions to emerge in the world of data science, analytics and artificial intelligence spanning all industries, and one that our clients are increasingly asking us to fill, is that of Chief Digital Officer (CDO).  This is the person responsible for leading the transformation of a business from traditional to digital solutions for enhanced efficiencies and customer value.

If you have only a vague notion of what a CDO does, you’re not alone. What started out as a predominantly marketing position has increasingly evolved into more of a technological role; and now the most successful CDOs are those with strong technology backgrounds and leadership experience. A good technologies team may be able to implement new technology with ease but an effective CDO will ensure the new technologies are well integrated into your company’s digital ecosystem. Ideally, the CDO streamlines technology processes to work well together, to avoid having digital platforms that are redundant or incompatible.

It is critical to understand that a CDO is functionally different from a CIO (Chief Information Officer) in that the role is less focused on specific types of technology and is more creative and leadership-based. To add to the confusion, CDOs share an acronym with Chief Data Officers, who both have technological roles, yet differ significantly. A Chief Data Officer’s job is essentially to find efficient means of accumulating data and using this as an asset. Although their roles overlap, the ideal resume of each appears slightly different. Typically, a CDO requires experience from a broader scope than a CIO or Chief Data Officer.  CDOs not only need to understand the subject matter, but also have the ability to transform organisations and lead their colleagues through significant change.

In a white paper titled The Rise (and fall?) of the CDO, Deloittes describes the following characteristics of a good CDO:

  1. Capable of galvanising employees to believe in the digital mission
  2. Knows what is possible: understands the technology available, fundamentals and potential of branding and marketing, and is committed to data-based decision-making
  3. Customer-centric: Embeds service design principles in any new digital products and services
  4. Well sponsored by the CEO: considerable clout is required to be the lighthouse for digital transformation in any organisation
  5. Flair for digital talent-spotting and development: an effective balance of talent, which is both broad and deep, is key to digital transformation

Accordingly, it is clear that your organisation’s CDO should have a strong background in the seemingly opposite worlds of marketing and technology with a robust EQ to support the changes required in the business. The CDO must have the necessary skills to engage other executives in their vision, and to guide and lead the rest of the organisation throughout the transformation; a tall order perhaps?

That said the CDO role itself can function in a wide variety of ways depending on the requirements of a specific company. Digital Journal’s five CDO archetypes suggest different ways that the role can manifest;

  1.  The progressive thinker focuses on how the organisation can be effectively transformed through digitisation
  2. The creative disrupter looks to develop new digital technologies
  3. The customer advocate focuses on the customer’s needs to drive digital innovation
  4. The innovative technologist promotes new technologies, always driving forward to the next best thing
  5. The universalist seeks to balance it all

Which archetype is more appropriate depends on the priorities of your company, the digital strategies already in place, and the extent of transformation required in your company. An online retailer, for example, might benefit more from a CDO with prior experience in online marketplaces than an engineering firm, who would require a CDO with sound knowledge of engineering technology platforms.  However, pigeon-holing your company into looking for one type of person can also have its drawbacks.

According to Deloittes, there are three potential kinds of CDOs – ex-agency, digital strategists, and technologists – and it is very difficult to find someone with experience in all three worlds, especially internally from a current staff complement. If it seems almost impossible to find an appropriate CDO, Deloittes advises that it would be constructive to engage the services of an Executive Search company.

Mindcor can help you understand the type of CDO you require, as well as source and engage the appropriate candidates for you. We can assist you to locate, not only the technical, but the leadership and soft skills required for this increasingly vital and diverse role.  Using Mindcor to find the optimal combination can put your mind at ease. We excel in complex hiring situations such as these, and will consult with you to find the ideal fit. Don’t hesitate – the perfect CDO is waiting for you!

*(WEF Future of Jobs Survey 2018)