Talk of the demise of the chief digital officer role — an executive position designed to help companies drive digital strategy — is surfacing. And not just in media reports. Ask chief digital officers what their ultimate goal is, and you’ll likely hear it’s to put themselves out of a job. That’s because once digital strategy becomes the business strategy, a chief digital cheerleader is no longer necessary.
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Regardless of the CDO’s fate, digital initiatives will remain important to the business, said Anna Frazzetto, chief digital technology officer — that’s CDTO — at IT recruiting company Harvey Nash. And, so, while CDOs might not be called CDOs for long, the digital agenda they’ve championed won’t disappear. That’s good news for CIOs who haven’t shied away from the digital business bandwagon and not so good news for CIOs who have. Because here’s how Frazzetto sees the role evolving: “I think there’s going to be a melding of the CIO role and the CDO role,” she said. “It’s going to be called something else, but the underlying current is going to be the digital officer aspect of it.”
Frazzetto, whom I met at last May’s CDO Summit, speaks from personal experience. In her role as CDTO at Harvey Nash, Frazzetto weighs in on internal technology planning, but she also works with customers to help them build a digital strategy. Her current position underscores both her technology experience (she got her start at IBM as a systems engineer) and her communication skills (at a mentor’s behest, she pursued roles on the business side of the house).
The techno-biz blend of skills isn’t unheard of for CDOs. David Yakir, one of the first digital officers, was both a CTO and a CEO before becoming Young & Rubicam Group’s CDO in 2003. And, so, while Frazzetto’s title as a CDTO is unique, her range of experience as a digital officer isn’t. If Frazzetto is right and businesses decide to merge the CDO and CIO positions, chief information officers who aren’t working collaboratively with the business may have a tough time competing for the newly hatched role.
It’s those CIOs’ own doing, she argues. If they’d kept pace with the business, transforming the role as necessary, the CDO position wouldn’t exist. “It’s kind of like UPS and FedEx. They came into existence because the postal system didn’t think about having next-day delivery,” she said.