The Chief Digital Officer: Enabling Online Business Transformation

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The Chief Digital Officer: Enabling Online Business Transformation


The critical importance of digital strategy has secured enviable positions for Chief Digital Officers and Digital Strategy Directors within senior leadership teams.

While there are diverse definitions for the role of CDO(Chief Digital Officer), all converge on promoting the digital transformation of organisations. All companies undergo this transformation and business models are being reshaped to incorporate new technologies. The digital function should therefore be very close to the company’s leadership, preferably as a member of the leadership team.

Where does the CDO sit within the corporate structure?

Successful businesses have understood that it’s essential to give their CDO and Directors of Digital Strategy a seat at the executive table, due to the importance of the

revenue streams relying on them, as well as their ability to drive major transformation within the organisation. As their contribution will often help to define the company’s future direction, their role has to align closely with the interests of the CEO, CFO, COO and other key members of the leadership team.

Why do organisations need a CDO?

A decade ago, many organisations were faced with the challenge of finding the right mix between their traditional business model and their digital strategy. Over time, we have seen that those companies best able to integrate both strands have survived and thrived. In most cases, initiatives taking a business too far from its core competencies resulted in failure. Today, digital has developed into much more than just a successful integration of offline and online business models. Core concepts such as Big Data, analytics and user privacy have made the Chief Digital Officer a vital member of the leadership team: one with a clear mandate for driving change to enable online business transformation. The successful CDO acts as a change architect by unifying the future vision of the company with its current organisation, culture and needs.

What does a successful CDO look like?

It should be no surprise that a CDO usually has experience in the world of digital marketing, technology, e-commerce and strategy. To be successful, they must have the ability to create effective strategies for a wide range of digital platforms that align with the company’s overall strategy. Previous experience at industry-leading digital organisations such as Google, Facebook, Amazon or Yahoo doesn’t guarantee success, but it certainly improves the odds.

However, to succeed, it is also desirable for a CDO to have gained experience in conventional businesses: understanding what happens in functional areas such as marketing and sales, and bringing operational business management experience that has also involved P&L responsibilities.

On the soft side, CDO positions require an enormous capacity to adapt to change, to work in teams in both complex and unstructured environments, to be passionate about technology and innovation, and to have an intrinsic focus on customer satisfaction.

Technology is ever-evolving, so it is crucial that the CDO is attuned to the way in which different segments in society utilise and adapt to technological innovations. It is imperative that he or she not only understands this behaviour, but is also able to anticipate it.

What is the key consideration in hiring a CDO?

This very senior positioning, along with their visibility and impact within the organisation, reinforces the need to select and recruit candidates who can exceed the scope of their previous and present successes. Thus, assessing potential on top of current performance is crucial to the successful recruitment of Digital Strategists and CDOs.

Key takeaways

  • A successful CDO unites expertise in online practice and strategy with conventional business experience
  • Integrating the traditional business model and the digital strategy is key to commercial survival
  • Successful companies now give a seat to the CDO at the executive table, due to their ability to drive major transformation within the organisation
  • Assessing potential on top of performance to date is crucial when making senior appointments in the digital sphere
  • The CDO can apply the power of Big Data and analytics to re-engineer core business

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