Chief digital officers: what does the future hold?

It is a common consensus that digital is becoming more and more crucial to businesses today. In light of this, a startling statistic published in BrandRepublic caught my attention this week, stating that just 1% of companies are intending to hire a Chief Digital Officer over the next year. While organisations like Wired have previously argued that the CDO role is only set to grow in importance in the months and years ahead, it looks like firms are split as to what a CDO means to a company, and how much value they can really add. I think that the role of Chief Digital Officer is one of the most interesting there is, particularly as it is still so new. So how does a CDO fit into a business, and why does there seem to be a backlash in terms of their influence?

One possible reason for this conflict could be down to the uneasy relationship between the Chief Digital Officer and other executive posts. In many cases, the CDO’s duties overlap with those of the CMO and CIO, two long-established positions with well-defined briefs. However, I see a CDO as someone who can complement and enhance these roles, unifying strategy and the innovation process. Bertrand Bodson, who has just been promoted to CDO at Home Retail Group after initiating Argos’s digital transformation over the last year or so, is a good example of this. As Wired says, “CDOs need to be able to move nimbly in all parts of the corporation, in terms of both departments and functions.” Maybe this is the template for a truly effective chief digital officer?

The growing importance of the CDO is illustrated in the increasing number of past chief digital officers who have made the transition to chief executive. Forbes quotes entrepreneur Dave Mathison as saying that “the next generation of CEOs will come from the CDO role.” One precedent for this is Charlie Redmayne, CDO at publishing giant HarperCollins until 2011, who returned last year as CEO of the company’s UK division. I think that it is the broad range of skills essential to a Chief Digital Officer, encompassing information, marketing and strategy in equal measure, that puts them in this advantageous position, particularly in companies that are seeking to grow their technical capabilities.

So, why does BrandRepublic report that the Chief Digital Officer hire is losing its allure? The article references the challenge of finding “top talent” with the suite of capabilities to carry out such a versatile, ever-changing role, and this appears to be a common theme. Wired suggests: “there aren’t enough people with the right mix of technical knowledge, business experience and consumer orientation in the market”, raising questions over who is really ready to take on challenging CDO roles. This shortfall in availability isn’t easily solved. I think that the impetus to change things needs to come from businesses themselves, who can nurture talent and give executives the space to grow into promising CDOs. Otherwise, we may see fewer Chief Digital Officer hires in the future, as people are predicting!

Having said all this, the Chief Digital Officer is certainly a crucial individual for the right kind of business. How would you go about blending a new CDO hire into an organisation? Let me know at, and have a fantastic weekend.