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Why CIOs should treat strategic chief digital officers as allies, not rivals

Why CIOs should treat strategic chief digital officers as allies, not rivals

Keep in mind the CDO aims to change the business, not take over IT.

Resist the urge to protect your turf and instead help the CDO – it’s in your own interest to do so.

Mark Raskino, Gartner

Many enterprises struggle with digital transformation because the scope of change is massive and often very disruptive. With CEOs under pressure from boards and external stakeholders to create the digital future of the organisation, they’re appointing chief digital officers (CDO) to bring the considerable insight, energy and leadership needed to drive deep changes.

There’s a variety of different CDO roles out there, from the marketing oriented that handle digital customer engagement and focus on current revenue outcomes; to the design oriented that insource the digital design work that is currently run through numerous digital design agencies at significant cost.

Many enterprises, however, are appointing more senior, strategy oriented CDOs to lead digital transformation. This has many CIOs feeling threatened because of the power and technology-related focus of the new role. It’s also a true C-suite role, where the other varieties behave more obviously like additional internal partners or "customers" of the CIO and are often not C-suite roles, but one level below.

As a CIO, you should treat the strategic CDO as an ally, not a rival. It’s generally a transitional role and will advocate many changes that you ultimately wish to see.

Gartner analyst Mark Raskino
Gartner analyst Mark Raskino

Most CDOs will exercise the role for only a few years until digitalisation becomes embedded in the business strategy and management culture. Treat this time as an opportunity to strengthen your position before the role fades away

Strengthen your position

Gartner believes that hiring for the CDO role will peak by the end of 2019, and the role will disappear by 2025. Most CDOs will exercise the role for only a few years until digitalisation becomes embedded in the business strategy and management culture.

Treat this time as an opportunity to strengthen your position before the role fades away. There are four steps you can take to support the CDO.

  • Advise your company if it needs a (strategic) CDO

If your company is struggling with digital transformation, your CEO might ask for your opinion about whether to hire a CDO. Before you do, make sure you have a clear view of what a CDO does and when it makes sense to create such a role.

Recommend hiring a CDO when there’s weak or non-existent progress with digital strategy or if there’s a rising threat of disruption from digital competitors. Also, consider when your business executives lack awareness and insight, or if they need external perspective and knowledge.

Read more: Digital champions
  • Decide if you want to be a CDO

A few CIOs have become CDOs. However, take an honest look at your skills and ambition before putting yourself forward for the role.

Decline the role unless you’re confident you have the ability and hunger to perform it well. If you accept the role half-heartedly without having the necessary skills, poor performance will hurt your career. If you politely decline the role, but show real willingness to team up with a CDO, you’ll gain time to learn business skills — and will get another chance at digital leadership in a few years.

If you do take on the role, delegate more than half of your old CIO duties. Perhaps create a role of COO of IT to handle routine operational IT responsibilities.

  • Friend and extend the CDO

Developing a culture that fosters technology-driven business may be the most critical — and the most difficult — change for enterprises to make. Welcome the help of the CDO in pushing this transition.

You’ll go much further if you treat the CDO as an ally. That can be hard to do sometimes, especially when a CDO parachutes in suddenly without the CEO giving warning. However, resist the urge to protect your turf and instead help the CDO – it’s in your own interest to do so.

The two roles working together speaks with a louder voice at the executive leadership table.

Mark Raskino, Gartner

The CDO aims to change the business, not take over IT. A successful CDO will shift the enterprise to a more technology-centric, innovative posture — something you’ll be responsible for if you’re involved in digital business. The two roles working together speaks with a louder voice at the executive leadership table.

  • Plan to absorb the CDO's responsibilities

CIOs will take on many of the CDO's ongoing responsibilities as that role fades out. Much of the execution of their digital strategy will fall to the CIO because the CDO will only have a small team.

The changes that CDOs bring to the enterprise eventually become business as usual. Their leadership work and incubation of new capabilities must continue after they leave. If you partner closely with CDOs, you can learn from them and later take on a share of these responsibilities, including business-oriented ones.

Your value to the enterprise will go up. In fact, the further the enterprise has gone in its digital transformation, the more likely the CIO is to report directly to the CEO. If leveraged well, the CDO can give you a strong boost to your career.

Mark Raskino is a fellow in Gartner’s CEO and Digital Business Leadership research team. He covers business and technology trends and their implications for business strategy, innovation, business models, leadership and executive relationships. He co-authored the books Digital to the Core (Gartner, 2015) and Mastering the Hype Cycle (Harvard Business Press, 2008).

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

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