The concept of a chief transformation officer isn't new.
There are mentions of the role as early as 2013, including a piece by technology futurist and innovation expert Daniel Burrus in the Harvard Business Review that claims the role of the chief technology officer (CTO) needs to transform into the chief transformation officer. Burrus wrote that the chief transformation officer would be focused on identifying how to use technology to transform processes, products and services for the digital economy and ensuring that the company survives the inevitable transformation.
A 2016 McKinsey & Company report labeled a chief transformation officer as an experienced and highly capable leader who "significantly improves the chances of a successful transformation." The report said that the person in this role "acts as the face of the transformation, sets the tone, spurs enthusiasm, and challenges current wisdom."
We haven't heard much about the chief transformation officer role -- sometimes called the chief digital transformation officer role -- over the years, but it could be making a resurgence.
Media giant Viacom selected veteran international exec Jose Tolosa to serve in the newly created position of chief transformation officer last fall. Tolosa is tasked with "overseeing a team responsible for guiding Viacom's transformation agenda, and developing and executing initiatives that support and accelerate the strategic priorities set out as part of the company's fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 earnings results."
In December 2017, UPS appointed Scott Price as its first chief transformation officer. Price is charged with "driving and facilitating organizational change that will help UPS to both identify and execute opportunities for profitable growth within its existing business units and in yet-untapped markets and product segments." Among his tasks is overseeing the planned upgrade of UPS' Smart Global Logistics Network "through the use of state-of-the-art processes, information technology and automation."
If you think those duties, as laid out by Viacom and UPS, sound similar to the duties of other C-suite executives, you're not alone. Twitter was recently abuzz over whether a chief transformation officer is necessary. It all started with a remark from Dion Hinchcliffe, senior analyst at Constellation Research and chief strategy officer at online community strategy firm 7Summits, who attached McKinsey’s eight questions chart to his tweet:
Hearing more rumblings about the need for a Chief #DigitalTransformation Officer.— Dion Hinchcliffe (@dhinchcliffe) April 10, 2018
My take: You probably already have one in the form of your...#CEO#CIO#CDO#CMO
Or other leader. But if you don’t then it might indeed be a smart move.#cdto #leadership #changeagents #NewCSuite pic.twitter.com/DQlA29Vlzl
Responses rolled in from CIOs, CTOs, analysts and IT consultants:
I would agree. Today the #CEO is the most common chief #digitaltransformation officer, from the entire business. Or should be. But there are certainly other roles that can do it, though it's probably harder that way.#cio #cdo #cmo #leadership— Dion Hinchcliffe (@dhinchcliffe) April 10, 2018
Transformational technology leader Wayne Sadin compared the chief transformation officer to his chief internet officer back in the day, which was a temporary position, but said there's a difference:
I created a Chief #Internet Officer in 1999 to evangelize & coordinate (& demonstrate our commitment LOL). After 2 years position went away.— Wayne Sadin (@waynesadin) April 11, 2018
Might make sense. Difference is 'Internet' seen as tech, but #DigitalTransformation is cultural (thus #CEO job)
Here is where it is important to define the new title and assign it. It changes the perception of the traditional CxO roles and allows the opportunity to establish a new brand. Yes org's should have someone driving #digital right now but do they have the support?— David Chou (@dchou1107) April 10, 2018
The problem is that Digital is a tool...not a function nor a functional role. Besides, what does 'digital' really provide any org? At the fundamental level...nothing. Digital or not, it is how you leverage tools that start to get interesting.— Tim Crawford (@tcrawford) April 10, 2018
Referencing the McKinsey & Company graphic attached to Hinchcliffe's original tweet, IT consultant Chris Peterson had this to say:
Items 2 and 7 imply a level of empowerment and C-suite re-alignment that might impact a smooth #DigitalTransformation. Additionally, the language about slaughtering "sacred cows" seems culturally insensitive/offensive. #CIO #CDTO #ChangeAgents— Chris (@CPetersen_CS) April 10, 2018