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The 10 Traits of a Chief Digital Officer


Over a decade ago, when I began my career as producer, digital, as a career path was in its infancy. As it emerged as a key structure in the architecture of the business world, my career path unfolded in unexpected ways which provided a unique multi-faceted perspective across diverse industries. Along the way, digital grew up. It became an essential part of a company’s business plan. Websites became serious tools. And I had the opportunity of witnessing this, participating in, and building a lot of these tools. Now, digital has arrived. It’s become the most strategic area of a company’s blueprint. And with that arrival, a new role has emerged, one that several years ago would have seemed outrageous, but today seems vital – the Chief Digital Officer.

Some facts to consider:

By 2015, 25% of enterprises will have a CDO. (Gartner).

Laura McLellan from Gartner: By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO. Great article From Forbes.

READ, The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer by Rhys Grossman and Jana Rich of Russell Reynolds Associates. Fantastic.

And from Gartner/Forbes: Digital density has reached a tipping point with more than a billion people on Facebook, 5.6 billion mobile devices and more than $20.4 trillion dollars of business or 14% of all economic activity transacted across digital resources.

What does Chief Digital Officer look like? Is it a CIO? A CMO? A VP of Digital? The answer is yes – it could be any one of these people. In my opinion, a Chief Digital Officer needs to demonstrate the following traits:

Sound Technical Chops: The Chief Digital Officer may not know how to configure a server, write a thesis on open source CMS solutions, or upgrade a SQL Server, but this individual should be able to talk shop around technical requirements. Importantly, the CDO should help guide decisions around the technical infrastructure, or at the very least, articulate the business needs and end user experience. The technical blueprint is an essential framework for success. Disjointed digital strategies result in failed projects – very expensive ones. Your IT budget won’t last forever.

Technology should have a personality: This has been my mantra for years. It’s a holistic, symbiotic statement. Great technology cannot succeed without compelling content, seamless brand integration and respect for the end user experience. The Chief Digital Officer should think carefully about the personality reflected in the execution of digital projects. More often than not, the technology behind the experience is irrelevant to a customer. Create memorable experiences.

You’re not going far without creative direction: The emergence of the Chief Digital Officer and where they sit in the organization shows the blurring of lines in Digital. Who owns the strategy, the budget, and decision making? If it truly is the CDO, then they also need to have the creative approach to the digital strategy. Clients see right through off-the-shelf experiences or automated solutions – these need to be augmented with some real creativity. Surprise your customers. You’ll like the results – and so will the Internet.

Prospecting is key to data: I often compare data to a bowl of spaghetti – individual, tangled strands of data. But unlike spaghetti, data has something to reveal and zero carbs. If Content is King, then Data is the Crown. EVERY decision made around your digital strategy should be informed by data – solid analytics, A/B testing, data trends, user surveys and lots, lots, more. ‘Hunches’ don’t really cut it at this level. Data should inform decisions around content changes, specific projects and budget allocation. Think of it as bringing at little CSI into the workplace.

Digital Holism: Everything is digital to the CDO – the website, email, social, mobile. IOS, Android, analytics, data capture, testing, advertising, global content, CRM integration, photography & video, Apps, and on, and on. In considering the personality of technology (above), we need to consider all aspects of the digital strategy. New initiatives don’t sit conveniently in perfect incubators – they cross over into all areas of the organizations. Don’t forget this. Digital strategy is the sum of all its nano parts. No pressure.

Content really is King: Content is the icing on the cake. It’s what clients consume. It’s what defines and creates alignment with products and services. It establishes a global brand. It drives traffic. It drives SEO. It drives Social. Heard enough? Don’t undervalue the power of good writing, content experiences, video and the experience users have with digital properties. Content provides a glimpse into the emotional life and personality of the company. Empathy is powerful. And that’s marketing.

There are opportunities in calculated risk taking: If you’re considering data and a holistic approach to digital strategy, then you need to take risks. And it’s OK to fail. Failure in itself presents countless opportunities. Calculated risk taking can reveal the next big thing, a spike in traffic, record breaking leads and opportunities or create that viral campaign you’ve been dreaming about for years. Or, you might just learn something valuable. Don’t get too comfortable with your definition of success. It is a moving target.

Be Agile: I’m not just talking about agile development. The digital leader needs to be agile on all fronts – technology, content, infrastructure and even Google’s latest search algorithm’s. Since technology changes daily, so does the CDO – career-wise, be prepared to reinvent yourself every six months. It’s the only way to succeed and trail blaze an innovative digital strategy. Take this post for instance – it will be irrelevant in a year.

Don’t lose that sense of humor: If you’re going to be agile, consider the personality of technology, be holistic in your approach, and dominate – you’ll need that sense of humor to get through the considerable obstacles and challenges you face. Humor adds perspective. Humor lessens stress. Humor gains friends. It’s lonely at the top.

Drive: Digital is like Las Vegas. It never sleeps. Pushing the boundaries of digital requires unwavering commitment, an incredible team, creativity, risk taking and drive. It’s obvious, but for the sake of defining CDO qualities, this needs to be included. The CDO needs to be hungrier than ever in their career. How else will they tackle that bowl of spaghetti data?

In conclusion – a holistic approach to the digital strategy, including sound technical chops, an understanding of data, integration of meaningful content, agility and drive, creativity, calculated risk taking and a sense of humor. Go get ’em.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Agree, disagree? Want to add to this list?

AND – here are some additional resources around Chief Digital Officers:

Thank you for reading!

10 Comments

  • The 10 Traits of a Chief Digital Officer « InsideDigital.org

    [...] See on danielincandela.com [...]

    08 Jul 2013

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    Melissa Katrincic

    Fantastic post Daniel. Agree on all of your points on the characteristics, strengths and requirements for a CDO in today's organizations. The key for making this role one that is embraced by the C-suite will be on our ability to niche the integration between the CMO and CTO as well without a sense of territory staking and land-grabbing. A good CDO should be able to incorporate the needs of these two internal organizations into the digital strategy and innovations in order to gain the necessary strategic alignment. Without this alignment, the role of the CDO will be a non-starter in so many organizations that prefer the status quo and established C-suite relationships. I inherently see the need of the CDO after experiencing many marketing and IT organizations that are unable to embrace a shared vision. Walking that line will be the CDO's sweet spot!

    09 Jul 2013

  • The 10 Traits Of Chief Digital Officer | Hijazi Natsheh

    […] Source […]

    20 Aug 2013

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    28 Apr 2016

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