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Recently Mike Bracken announced his resignation as Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office.

He had been leading the digital transformation of UK government through the Government Digital Service (GDS), earning a CBE among other plaudits for his work. 

So what bigger digital challenge has he gone on to? He will join the Executive Board of the Co-operative Group as Chief Digital Officer, working to the Chief Executive, Richard Pennycook.

This got me thinking... Two years ago I argued why a Chief Digital Officer is a bad idea, provoking some heated debate at the time. Mike’s job change has now made me reassess my thoughts on the CDO role.

In the last few weeks I have spoken to four CDOs of sizeable businesses to try and learn more about the role and what it means for the future of digital, marketing and business more generally. The following is what I have learned...  

For starters, CDOs are hot property. According to the CDO Club salaries for a Chief Digital Officer range from $89,000 to $600,000, with the median falling between $250,000 and $300,000. That means CDOs are paid more than CMOs where top earnings are around £160k according to our own Salary Survey 2015

There are now more than a thousand CDOs globally and the number has doubled every year for the last few years. Gartner predicted 25% of businesses would have a CDO by the end of this year.

Secondly, there appear to be broadly two types of CDO. One I call the ‘Ambassador CDO’. His or her main role is to be an evangelist for digital across the business, to fly the digital flag, to inspire, educate and inform on all things digital. 

This is typically a role with no P&L or little management responsibilities. You see this most often in much larger, often multinational, companies (£1bn+ turnover) where the most senior folk cannot quite let go of power but feel the need to parade digital through the corporate corridors. 

The second type I call ‘transformer CDO’. This breed has real power and is set on transforming the entire business on their journey to becoming CEO.  

What are the capabilities required of the transformer CDO? 

The words that come up most: leadership, vision, customer-centricity, change, transformation, innovation, disruption, tech, data, culture, agile, collaboration, communication, building buy-in. 

Intriguingly the word ‘digital’ rarely comes up. 

The remit of a transformer CDO is typically broader than a CMO. The CDO has a more complete view of the customer experience across touchpoints beyond just marketing to include sales and service. The CDO often controls product as well as marketing. In fact the transformer CDO is almost synonymous with a Chief Customer Officer.

What if you are planning to hire a CDO? 

Here are some things to bear in mind based on my conversations with CDOs:

  • Know the difference between an ‘ambassador CDO’ and ‘transformer CDO’ and be clear on which you are hiring. 
  • If you are hiring a transformer CDO then you should acknowledge that you are hiring a strong contender for the successor to the CEO. You should be aware, of course, of the sensitivities of existing board members or senior management if this is made explicit. 
  • If you hire a transformer CDO then it will be very hard for this role to co-exist happily for long with a CMO. Better that you have a Head of Marketing who reports to the CDO. 
  • Realise that the remit of a transformer CDO is not just ‘vertical’ down through the organisation, but ‘horizontal’. Digital will permeate every single area of the business, across technology, data, culture, people, process, strategy. Digital will need to become over time part of the DNA of the business. 

Chief Digital Officer is a very exciting role and it is a role that marketers can take up. However, I also believe that it will be very hard for a CMO and CDO to co-exist unless the CDO is an ambassadorial role only. 

So if marketers do not step up they may find their new boss is a ‘digital’ executive, albeit one whose main agenda is not digital per se but customer-centricity and business transformation more broadly. 

Want to know more about how digital is transforming brands? The digital transformation stage at The Festival of Marketing in November will see leading thinkers offer strategic advice and insight on digital leadership and frameworks. For more information and to buy tickets please visit The Festival of Marketing.

Ashley Friedlein

Published 7 September, 2015 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Sofie Westlake

Sofie Westlake, Digital Marketing Manager at Personal

Very interesting distinction between ambassadors and transformers. I think this works at many levels, not just Chief-Levels. I like the idea of Head of Marketing reporting to CDO, especially in organisations which are very product-driven in their focus. You don't mention the CTO, where do you think they are in this journey?

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Sofie It is quite rare that there is no CTO (or CIO). Where there is a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) then I am seeing that person in most cases having IT report into them. So this could also be the case for a CDO. So there is no CTO but there is a Head of Technology/IT. But there is so much to do on the tech side (for all companies) that I think it probably makes sense always to have a CTO even if that person actually reports into a CDO or CCO.

I do think, though, like marketers/digital types, it should be possible (and is in many cases sensible) for someone from tech to become the CDO or CCO. And from there to become the CEO. It used to be very rare for a marketing or tech type to become CEO of large businesses, but that is changing (rightly so).

over 1 year ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Thanks for writing this, Ashley, it's very interesting.

Here is a silly, but perhaps obvious question: Do you think Centaur needs a CDO? (and why/why not?)

dan

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@dan you expect me to discuss such things in public? ;)

Well... I think all businesses, and perhaps particularly media businesses at the moment, need to 'get (more) digital'. Not just tech but process, culture, talent etc. So personally I think they should have a CTO on the main board. And ideally a data-driven/tech-savvy CMO. And Centaur has neither of those. I don't think Centaur is big enough to warrant a 'transformer CDO'. Without naming names there are individuals here who partially perform that role (CDO-cum-CTO-cum-Chief Product Officer).

So, no, I don't think a CDO would make sense for Centaur. But a great digital/marketing savvy CTO on the board I think would be a good idea. Various other media businesses (Haymarket, Immediate Media etc) have such CTOs (some quite recently appointed like Haymarket).

over 1 year ago

Hilton Barbour

Hilton Barbour, Marketing Provocateur at Hilton Barbour Inc

The potential for overlap, duplication and redundancy is enormous. Chief Operating Officers have typically handled the "stitching together" and deployment component. Chief Talent Officers have ensured the right digitally-oriented talent is on-board and the culture suitably aligned to let digital flourish. And then, of course, the C-suite members responsible for Technology and Marketing have sizeable roles. It will take a strong executive team - and perhaps an even stronger and digitally-savvy Board of Directors - to ensure the swimming lanes are clear...and that the rest of the organization understands the delineations too.

As an aside, you might find a recent post on the critical role of Culture on Digital Transformation interesting. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-culture-your-digital-transformation-hilton-barbour?

over 1 year ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Director / Consultant at DigitalFWD

Great piece. It's a role with multiple meanings. Here's some more discussion of why a CDO is important for now, but will probably disappear in time: http://digitalfwd.com/blog/chief-digital-officer

over 1 year ago

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David Mathison, CEO at CDO Summit

Ashley: join us at the 2nd annual UK CDO Summit on 07 October 2015 at 30 Euston Square? I'll save you a complimentary press pass. We'd love to have you there. Best regards - David Mathison, CEO at CDO Club/CDO Summit

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Hilton Yes, good point about the COO. I can see that role co-existing happily enough with a CDO (or CCO). I think the CCO/CDO (or CMO) are somewhat more 'front office' and customer facing (including customer insight, data etc) whereas a COO is more about making stuff happen across the business to realise the vision. In my piece on CCOs - see https://econsultancy.com/blog/66223-with-a-blank-sheet-what-organisational-structure-would-you-choose-for-marketing-and-digital/ - the COO is the key pairing with the CCO.

On culture... absolutely. In my original presentation on Digital Transformation a few years ago (see http://www.slideshare.net/econsultancy/digital-transformation-ashley-friedlein-ceo-econsultancy) I define a digitally transformed organisation as one that a) focuses on customer experience irrespective of channel and b) has a 'digital' culture (which I then try and define).

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Adam Yes, entirely agree. A good piece you've written and the Deloitte stuff is good too. I'm working on an evolutionary framework to show the likely phases as relates to job titles and digital maturity. This will also try and resolve the CDO / CCO titles (see https://econsultancy.com/blog/66223-with-a-blank-sheet-what-organisational-structure-would-you-choose-for-marketing-and-digital/) as I think they can be very close and it is a live question as to whether CCO is also just a transitional title.

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@David Absolutely, love to come. Next time I'll speak :)

over 1 year ago

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Darren Ward, Director of Product Marketing at User Replay Ltd

Personally, I think the fact that an organisation puts a Chief Digital Officer in place shows that digital has not been fully integrated and accepted within the organisation as "business as usual". Digital is not a stovepipe and digital expertise is a requirement in all departments of an organisation.

over 1 year ago

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Manfredi Sassoli, Head of Online Advertising at IG

Ashley I think you were right the first time, digital is a mean to a goal, never the goal per se. The way I see it, it's about being customer centric and this makes digital an essential tool for the modern CMO (or Chief Strategy officer or Chief Customer officer).

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@all McKinsey piece just come out which is very similar in its thinking around 'transformer CDO' - http://www.mckinsey.com/Insights/Organization/Transformer_in_chief_The_new_chief_digital_officer

over 1 year ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Just coming back to this as I came across this - https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2017/jan/16/new-executives-step-up-at-conde-nast-as-nicholas-coleridge-retires - where a CDO has been promoted to President. It is starting to happen more that digital types are becoming the business leaders.

about 1 month ago

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David Mathison, CEO at CDO Summit

Thanks for the heads up, Ashley.

We will add Wolfgang to the list of CDOs who have become President/CEO/NED: http://cdoclub.com/hall-of-fame/

about 1 month ago

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