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What's driving the adoption of the CIO-CDO dual role?

As the digital revolution continues, the ideal CIO is one that possesses both technical knowledge and business acumen to help drive their company’s digital transformation initiative forward. One popular trend has CIOs leading digital transformation efforts shouldering additional responsibilities that a chief digital officer would usually undertake. In an interview at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Naufal Khan, senior partner at McKinsey & Company, explained the growing popularity of the CIO-CDO dual role.

In this Q&A, Khan discussed why having IT leaders in the dual CIO-CDO role works better than the chief information officer and chief digital officer working in silos. He also explained the reasoning behind creating the CDO role and the influence it had on CIOs.

Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

There are CIOs who are undertaking the CIO-CDO dual role. Are you seeing more of that duality within the CIO role?

Naufal Khan: We are seeing more of that duality, and I think it’s the right thing. It started where you had a chief digital officer, you have a chief information officer, and they were peers. But companies realized over the last few years that this model wasn’t working very well. You can see that over the last three, four years where companies are trying to combine them and have a single technology leader. It’s the right move, which is going to take things in the right direction.

What’s not working is taking a digital organization and just mushing it with your IT organization. There’s a need for a better operating model between the two and how they will work together.

Why is having that CIO-CDO dual role better?

Khan: In order to make the digital assets work, you need technology to work with it. It just did not make sense to have them be separate. The siloed approach simply does not work here, mainly because of the high level of interdependability. I also feel that the CDO was often the CIO that the CEOs wish they had.
There was an attempt to get away from having two different technology leaders who are often going in completely different directions, which was not working. At the time, it also created a bit of the second class citizen feeling among the employees who are in these various areas, where they would feel digital is getting all the attention and IT is not, when the work that is being done is actually so integrated that it should be done by a single person.

Do you think that creation of the CDO role in the last couple of years was sending a message to CIOs that they weren’t getting the job done and they needed to step up?

Khan: It certainly was sending the message, I don’t know if that was intentional or not. But for many of the CIOs, it got them a little bit concerned. They started to think more about the value proposition of IT, particularly with cloud and many of these third-party solutions coming in where the traditional role of IT was diminishing. IT did need a new value proposition, and it did put CIOs on guard. Right now is a great time for CIOs to actually seize the opportunity.

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