At our Q3 Innovation Club, with a select group of global CIOs, CTOs, and Chief Digital Officers, we discussed the topic of the rise of the Chief Digital Officer role, and how CDOs and CIOs/CTOs should work together.

The number of Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) has doubled every year since 2005.  Gartner forecasts 1500 globally in role this year.

Our guest speaker was David Mathison, curator of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) club,, and a number of invited Chief Digital Officers.

The rise of the Chief Digital Officer - how will CIOs and CDOs collaborate to deliver innovation for the enterprise?

  • What is your sector's key area of digital innovation over next 1-2 years and what are the biggest challenges in getting there ?
  • Companies across the sectors represented at the dinner can no longer afford to have someone in between themselves and their customers (and also between them and key suppliers e.g. content owners) is encouraging a shift to direct...which creates a big challenge managing transition and change in industry structures

  • Sectors where there are entrenched middlemen and/or where the industry structure has not changed for years are ripe for digital disruption via new players - this disruption may well be driven by major customer segments wanting change themselves

  • Markets don't necessarily mature, mind-sets do

  • In some companies leadership is setting up digital-only teams to look at how to destroy their current business models

  • A common trend across a number of different sectors is where the CDO agenda is exploring how to create valuable on-going customer relationships using digital products and services....sometimes within the core brand and in other cases under a new brand......companies with large customer install bases are ready made to think about extending into new digital products & services

  • Digital products and services are a great way to expand reach, build new cycles of interaction and build customer intimacy and insight from data

  • Brands are increasingly exploring new areas where, in the eyes of their customers, they have permission to seek new sorts of relationships whether physical or digital or a some sectors like content owners  the digital economics are demanding that they make this shift into new business models

  • How is a CDO's digital value being measured and tracked across different organisations ?
  • The CDO agenda is increasingly more about generating new revenues and new customers

  • Measurement of CDO impact varies across industries and stages of maturity...there is no one size fits all approach

  • In some cases it is an influencing and strategic change role with no discrete P&L accountability...but with top level sponsorship from the Chairman & CEO level

  • others it has discrete P&L accountability for driving digital revenues and profitability...whether around a new brand or in a matrix type structure with the core business

  • ...or it is the CEO role with primary P&L accountability, and  the CDO is supporting them as a major agent for change or as more of a COO type role

  • CDO roles are increasingly a step on a GM career progression and promotion path towards CEO or a Board level director role

  • There was also debate about whether the CDO role is a transition phase, a moment in time particularly for sectors and companies where the move to digital is at an early stage of maturity...specific reference was made to digital first companies who do not have such a role that the end game in some sectors?

  • CEOs are using the CDO role and appointment and personal focus as a way to galvanise the troops and get a company to adapt and change - executive management recognises that there is a need to hire senior level individuals to help them drive their aspirations for an organisation to be more digital

  • How should CDO's and CIOs best work together and what are the main risks for success ?
  • A common theme echoed that the Office of the CDO and the Office of the CIO/CTO need to work closely together to ensure that the digital strategy is delivered effectively and efficiently.  There was also discussion around the importance of collaboration between the CDO, the CMO and the CTO/CIO, required to build and launch digital products and to ensure that an increasingly multi-channel customer journey can be supported and sustained

  • After dinner in the smaller groups...there was discussion around the tension that needs to exist, and is starting to build, between the CMO/CDO community and the CIO/CTO community about how to deliver new digital products and services at great speed and  how to keep refining them post launch in an iterative manner based on customer feedback

  • This tension and trend is driving brand new ways of thinking on how to design, build and launch digital products in the 21st Century

  • There was also discussion to what degree, and what is the best way, for the CIO/CTO community have to get involved, and/or control, how things are done in this new environment

  • Related to this there was debate about the management approach to digital it delivered from the company out it to the customer base, or is it the other way around and customers are in the driving seat...and therefore is it really about a centralised or federated management approach...or something bigger in terms of how to harness network level innovation

  • There was a realisation that the traditional ways of delivering systems in a company, to support an increasingly digital world, is not fast enough and different approaches must be considered in order to be fast and nimble in this sort of market...and this needs to be established quickly