Can the CIO Be the Chief Digital Officer? Yes If They Make the Role Their Own

Improving technology within an organization is all about fostering and promoting growth. The Chief Digital Officer is a growing position in many companies with the aim of doing just that.  While the role of the CIO is becoming unsure, the role of the CDO is becoming increasingly more stable.  It stands to reason, in this case, that CIOs would be perfect candidates to transform into CDOs.  This is the view of Mark P. McDonald of Gartner.  McDonald suggests that CIOs would make wonderful CDOs because “they have an intimate and operational understanding of how the enterprise and customers use technology.”  The uncommon qualifications of a CIO can create a great amount of value.  The key, McDonald notes, is to focus on and emphasize execution:

Putting thoughts, ideas and innovation into action is critical for two reasons.  First, creating results through execution is essential to digital technology as there is neither the time nor the repository of proven practices to sit back and wait.  You do not have to be the first mover, but you do have to move and that requires execution.  Second, inertia is the most common complaint business executives level against their CIO so its an issue [sic] you have to take head on – often by dispelling the idea that you are old, slow, and not concerned about the pace of business.  A good tactic here is to think about the times when you and IT have done little things quickly to solve business and operational issues.  Most CIOs forget about them in the face of large projects, but it’s the constant stream of little things that best reflect the reality of execution in a digital world.

McDonald also emphasizes the importance of highlighting value rather than focusing on budget.  A CDO, as McDonald notes, should not be a bureaucrat.  CIOs tend to spend too much time worrying about budget, and that needs to change if they hope to move into the role of CIO.  Avoiding digital isolation is also a must.  Focusing too much on one particular digital strategy can mean missing other opportunities.  Often, CIOs are able to see the value and power of combining digital technologies, which would be a wonderful trait for CDOs to have.

Creating technological value more often than not requires the work of a team of individuals rather than the ideas of one person.  This is why it is important for a CIO, as McDonald puts it, to “be inclusive and expansive.”  One who wishes to be a CDO must active creatively and create bridges between individuals working for a common goal.  The CDO must not act like an overlord.  Also, relying on being a business-minded CIO will not make for a smooth transition to being a CDO.  Remember, the role is changing, and so are some of the qualifications.

In short, McDonald stresses that making the CDO role one’s own is crucial.  If an organization wants to create a CDO role, the CIO is a valuable candidate based on past experience.  However, that experience must be molded by the individual in order to create the most desirable and ideal Chief Digital Officer.

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