The CIO can be the CDO

digital worldIn recent weeks the headlines about the growing influence and IT spending of the CMO and the impact that this is having on the CIO role have been replaced with stories about the rise of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and how this is relegating the CIO role to that of a support function.

The CDO role, which often reports directly to the CEO, is tasked with using technology to drive transformation across the organisation. The CDO’s remit can also be customer-facing; developing new or enhanced offerings or using technology to complement the core product/service, build loyalty or to support marketing campaigns.

Many commentators have observed that the CIO is often overlooked as a candidate for the CDO role as they may not have the right skills or experience or may lack credibility due to past failures. Sometimes the CDO role is created because the CEO has become frustrated that the CIO, having been given a remit to transform, has not been able to do so successfully. If any of the above are true then it is understandable why the CIO is not considered for the CDO role. Although creating a new C-level role is not necessarily the right answer. The CEO could after all just replace the CIO.

But even if the CIO does have the skills and experience to lead transformation and are not damaged by past failures, or if they are new to the organisation, they will still struggle to drive the transformation agenda if they are faced with a ‘traditional’ IT department and platform.

Whether it’s the CMO, the CDO or any other CxO that is threatening the CIO role, they all seem to have one thing in common: they are not encumbered with running the organisation’s infrastructure, legacy applications and corporate systems along with all of the controls, processes, standards  and policies that go with these. All of which consume time, resource and energy that the CIO could otherwise be spending on transformation and often pitches them in the role of a gatekeeper viewed as slowing down or stopping change. And neither do they have teams of deeply technical staff that can strip down and rebuild a server but do not necessarily know how to use technology to enable new capabilities.

That’s not to say that the CIO can ignore the technical side of the platform or the importance of controls, or that they do not need technical skills within their department. But to posiiton themselves as a transformational leader they need to free-up as much time and resources from these activities as possible and redeploy them into business-facing and value adding activities that can support them in shaping and driving transformation.

And they also need a platform that is flexible and can respond quickly to changing business needs. Well designed architecture, outsourcing, cloud-based services and strategic partnerships can all help achieve this.

The CIO will also need a strong management team to run things on a day-to-day basis so that they can spend their time outside of the IT department, with other parts of the business, customers and suppliers; building their knowledge of the business and their relationships with key stakeholders.

CIOs that want to lead the transformation agenda across their organisation need to start by transforming IT. Not only will it give them credibility in terms of leading transformation and in creating a function that is aligned with and meets the business needs, it will also remove many of the constraints that prevent them from being able to drive transformation across the business. If they achieve this then they will be well-positioned to take on the CDO role (whether it actually exists in the organisation or not).


  1. […] can read the rest of this post on The CIO Leader, my site for business-focused technology […]

  2. […] Cox, “The CIO can be the CDO”, March 12, […]


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