How to get away without hiring a chief digital officer

business strategyChief digital officer – it’s a new role, and one that we have been certainly hearing a lot about recently. Because of how new the role is, the job description is fluid but in general terms, the CDO is a senior manager with experience in digital marketing and e-commerce, and has led analog-to-digital transitions of both products and companies.  Unlike a CIO, whose role is to optimize efficiencies using technology, the CDO role is fundamentally about customer insight and user experience. In other words, we’ve already solved most of the technical problems, but we’re drowning in data and don’t know how to interpret it.

The Gartner Institute has recently released a prediction that 25% of companies will have a Chief Digital Officer by 2015. I’ll admit that when I first heard about the trend I was skeptical, but it appears to be more than just a passing trend. Wired magazine has declared 2014 the year of the CDO, IT Business has been extolling the virtues of hiring a CDO, and even the City of Vancouver appointed a chief digital officer.

By and large, bringing on a CDO is a huge disruptive force in an organization because at its core, a CDO’s mandate is to drive change and shake things up. The CDO is someone who understands the business extremely well and can take new innovations and insights from other digital or technology companies and apply it to their organization – someone who can cut through the digital, technological and marketing noise and identify patterns and key trends in order to grow as a company and stay relevant.

While I’ve talked about how great a CDO is, at Compugen we don’t have a one – even though as an IT-based company we pride ourselves on being up to date on technology and where the industry is headed. While we may go the CDO route at some point, we think we’ve incorporated the elements of the role very effectively by leveraging the skills we have in house. Based on our experience, here are three tips for how you might be able to gain the insight of a CDO… without hiring one.

  1. Hire a CEO who is steeped in market trends and technology. Easier said than done, right? We’re lucky (or maybe that’s part of our success) because our CEO does well in this regard. With a PhD in physics and an active interest in what’s happening in  high-tech now and down the road, our CEO applies that familiarity with technology and marketing to identify what the next business-changing trend will be so that we are ahead of it for our customers.
  2. Encourage your marketing lead to become more technology literate, and encourage your IT lead to become more marketing literate. The CDO’s skillset is a blend of technology and marketing, and the key element is the ability to move fluidly between those two worlds and translate one to the other. If you have a strong leader in one of these departments who can bridge the marketing-technology gap and has a strong analytical mind, then you may have someone in your organization that is already doing the job.
  3. Embrace change at all levels. It’s not just about hiring a single person, it’s about having a group of people who are willing to explore new insights and act on them. The CDO skill set can be a hugely disruptive and creative force within an organization and the corporate culture needs to support it. For example, it can be a cross-department team of forward-thinking, analytics-driven executives or senior managers. Empower them to identify areas for change and then give them the tools to do it.

What do you think? Has your organization embraced the CDO role and skill set?



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