That digital technology and social media is revolutionising the way we live might not be new, but the development of a new directorial role – the Chief Digital Officer, or CDO – which calls for the management of digitalisation within a business and the incorporation of social media in brand communication and marketing strategy, certainly is.
Growth of the CDO position has taken off most of all in the United States, where they work alongside the Chief Marketing Officer, the Chief External Relations Officer and the Chief Information Officer in defining a business’ marketing and communications strategy. Today on LinkedIn there are 700 CDO profiles, while in the States a CDO club, which meets at an annual summit to discuss future trends and strategy, has also been set up.
The CDO is a role that is establishing itself particularly well in higher education, with Columbia and Harvard universities both having the someone in the position. ‘Comprehensive digital strategy to meet needs in communications, engagement, and transaction, as well as exploring ways that organisations transform through and for their digital constituencies,’ says Perry Hewitt, the CDO of Harvard, probably the country’s most famous university.
However the role is also starting to proliferate within businesses across a range of industries, and there is lively debate on both its present and future. Among the themes at the heart of the discussion are the relationship between a CDO and CMO, CERO and CIO, with some businesses placing the CDO lower down the pecking order, while others interact directly with the CEO.
What’s even more interesting however is way this position could develop. On one hand, given the increasing importance of digital communication and social media, it would seem natural that the CDO is destined to become ever important. However that very same reasoning could be the reason for its demise, as digital skills will become so important that they will be required of everyone, rendering the CDO role essentially useless. This is what happened at News Corporation, who disposed of the role exactly for that reason.
So is the CDO a flash in the pan or the birth of a new profession? What is certain is that at the moment the need for someone who coordinates and guides a company’s digital activities is gaining ground in all areas of business.