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Forrester: The chief digital officer role is unnecessary

So, is it settled? Is the CIO the defacto leader of digital innovation?

Somebody has to be in charge of digital innovation, and according to Forrester Research, that somebody should be the CIO, not the chief digital officer.

That’s the word from Forrester’s “Predictions 2105: CIOs Accelerate The Business Technology Agenda” report:

“Although some firms have appointed a chief digital officer (CDO) to lead that effort, 2015 will be the year that CIOs — in partnership with CMOs — prove that the CDO role is unnecessary.”

The report argues that 2015 will be a defining year for CIOs, as their companies “pursue digital transformation and customer obsession.” By customer obsession, the report is referring to Forrester’s argument that because of technology, in particular digital technology, customers are now calling the shots and businesses must pay heed. To wit: “Your technology-empowered customers now know more than you do about products and services, your pricing and your reputation. Your competitors can copy or undermine the moves you take to compete. The only way to win and retain customers is to become customer obsessed,” Forrester states.

Buddy up to the CMO

CIOs have the “technical expertise and cross-functional business purview” to drive digital innovation,” the report insists, but they will have to assert themselves.

The first step in assuming the mantle of digital innovation leader, according to Forrester, is to “turn fledging relationships with CMOs into functional partnerships.” As CEOs increasingly realize that the future is digital, they will expect their CIOs to work with other business leaders, especially chief marketing officers, in leading the transition to digital business.  Says Forrester: “Already CMOs and CIOs in leading firms like adidas and Caterpillar have merged their unique competencies to form a partnership with shared goals and business results.”

The big caveat? Many CIOs are still viewed by their businesses as the leader of a cost center, according to the report.

Gartner also weighs in on CIO as digital leader

Forrester isn’t the only IT consultancy making the case for CIO as digital leader. A recent Gartner CEO survey found that CEOs rely on their CIO more than any other executive to lead “digital innovation” — above their CMOs, business unit leaders, COOs, chief digital officers and so on.

But are CIOs, in general, trained to be digital innovators, and if not, how do they get that skill?

I asked that question of a panel of CIOs and CEOs at the recent SIMposium conference in Denver, put on by the Society for Information Management. Stay tuned for their answers.

Email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or find her on Twitter at @ltucci.

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