We've all seen it. CIOs who do great things in leading IT soon gain extra responsibilities. By helping business leaders to improve their businesses, the CIO becomes an obvious candidate to fill any open role that involves technology, process, or strong governance. Some CIOs become CIO-Plus-COO or CIO-Plus-Head of Shared Services. Others gain new responsibilities in strategy, M&A integration, or innovation. Still others move on to business roles including CEO. In the book, The Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value, Richard Hunter and I coined the phrase CIO-Plus. In the four years since our book was published, the CIO-Plus idea has gained real traction, and there are numerous stories and cases studies on the phenomenon.
But there is another leadership role that has arisen in many organizations in recent years: the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). In many companies, "digital" is a cacophony of disconnected, inconsistent, and sometimes incompatible activities. One company had three simultaneous mobile marketing initiatives, conducted by different groups, using different tools and vendors. Other companies have multiple employee collaboration platforms with different rules and technologies. The problem is exacerbated as business units do their own things digitally, or as companies hire vendors who can only do things their own way. If your company has wildly different digital marketing activities for each brand or region, you know what I mean.
The CDO's job is to turn the digital cacophony into a symphony. It's OK to experiment with new businesses and tools, but experimentation must be coupled with building scalable, efficient capabilities. The CDO creates a unifying digital vision, energizes the company around digital possibilities, coordinates digital activities, helps to rethink products and processes for the digital age, and sometimes provides critical tools or resources. That's why Starbucks — an early leader in all things digital — hired a CDO last year. And it's why many other companies are naming CDOs before they get too far along the digital road.
The title CDO may or may not become permanent in your company. But the responsibilities of the CDO will be required. You may appoint a temporary CDO to get your house in order, or you may develop other ways to get the job done. Whatever approach you choose, you need to create appropriate levels of digital technology synergy, brand integration, investment coordination, skill development, vendor management, and innovation over the long term.
Is CDO the next step for the aspiring CIO-Plus? The answer is not obvious, but it's well worth considering. Many of the CDO's roles are challenges that great CIOs have already mastered in their own domains. But some, such as brand synergy, are new to the CIO. Diverse companies are responding to the digital leadership challenge in different and dynamic ways.
Although relatively few CIOs have an official CDO title, roughly 20% of CIOs in Gartner's latest survey said they played the role. At Codelco, the world's largest copper mining company, CIO Marco Orellana is helping to fundamentally transform the process of mining and selling through digital technologies such as real-time coordination, analytics, and autonomous vehicles. At Asian Paints, Manish Choksi managed the difficult step of centralizing and standardizing processes across a loosely-coupled set of regional units. Now, as CIO and Chief of Corporate Strategy, he leads the digital transformation of manufacturing, selling, and customer service.
In some companies, the CIO and CDO are deliberately separate roles. The CIO of an apparel company participates in digital decisions and supports digital initiatives while keeping the company's traditional IT unit running smoothly. He is not seen as a potential CDO, but the company values his skills in a strong supporting role. Meanwhile, Starbucks' CDO Adam Brotman and CIO Curt Garner work very closely as a team to drive digital strategy and execution.
Then again, executives in some companies feel their CIO does not have what it takes to be part of the digital conversation. The CIO of a business-services provider had little role in digital at all; the CEO asked him to focus only on legacy IT systems while a newly-hired CDO managed digital activities. Two years later, the company moved all IT functions under the CDO, and the CIO moved to a new firm.
So, should your CIO take on digital responsibilities? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Is your CIO great at the CIO role? Is IT clearly running well? Are IT costs and agility what you want them to be? If your answer to these questions is "no," then you probably want your CIO to focus on fixing IT, not expanding beyond IT.
Is your CIO ready for a CIO-Plus role? Do you see your CIO as a senior executive colleague or just a leader of the technology function? Has he successfully managed non-technical roles such as merger integration, process management, or shared services? Is your senior team smarter when your CIO is in the room?
Does your CIO have digital expertise? Can she talk the language of social media or mobile or analytics, and can she help you understand? Does she understand the digital threats and opportunities your company faces — from inside and outside its industry? Can she create a compelling digital vision for the firm?
Will your CIO command respect across the enterprise? The CDO role can require even more political savvy and communication skills than the CIO role does. Is your CIO up to the task of driving change across a strong-willed senior executive team? Can she engage a busy workforce to turn digital vision into reality?
In an increasingly digitizing business world, most companies need better digital leadership and coordination. You need to create a compelling digital vision, coordinate digital investments, drive appropriate synergies, build a clean technology platform, and foster innovation. You need to energize a busy workforce and generate shared understanding in your senior executive team.
If your CIO is good, look to him for help. Strong CIOs have already tackled some of the tough challenges of digital leadership. They understand the importance of governance and policy. They know the intricacies of managing across organizational units. They tend to be highly connected with senior executives, having helped them achieve their objectives over the years. They know the current business and the future opportunities technology can create. Plus, in any big company, it's difficult — if not impossible — to build great digital capabilities without linking to your existing IT capabilities and people.
So, should your CIO be CDO? You need to get the digital leadership job done, whether through a new C-level title or other methods. If you have a great CIO, give her some digital responsibility. You may not choose to make her your digital leader. But the skills and relationships of a great CIO will be an asset to any digital leadership team.