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ICT Journal – Chief Digital Officer, a Role That Varies Dramatically

  • August 2019

The role of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) varies dramatically between companies. What’s more, CDOs often face an uphill battle to promote change, according to a survey by Egon Zehnder, covered in Swiss ICT Journal.

The CDO position has attracted great interest since it was introduced roughly five years ago to help drive digital transformation. Since then, CDOs have been appointed across all sectors, including in such Swiss companies as ABB,Novartis and UBS.

The CDOs themselves hail from completely different backgrounds. “Their varied backgrounds suggest that the companies hiring them have different goals and hold different perspectives about the talents they’re looking for and the expectations related to the CDO role. This means that it’s absolutely essential for any company hiring a CDO to understand what their transformational needs are well before they start the recruitment process,” the Swiss IT magazine reports Egon Zehnder as saying.

According to Egon Zehnder’s survey of 107 CDOs from large companies in 20 countries, titled "CDO Decoded: The First Wave of Chief Digital Officers Speaks,” a clear majority (more than three quarters) is their company’s first-ever CDO. Two-thirds have been recruited externally and report directly to the CEO.

The CDOs’ mission within companies varies dramatically. According to more than half of the respondents, their job is primarily about making a commercial impact. For one in five CDOs, the main goal is the long-term orientation of the company towards innovation and product strategy. For 10%, it’s about leading culture change.

Talking, not doing

Significantly, more than half of the CDOs surveyed spend more time evangelizing or promoting change than carrying out their strategy.

The survey also examines the difficulties CDOs experience: almost half find their role differs substantially from their initial expectations. And 80% find it more difficult than they thought to transform a company. More than two-thirds admit they poorly gauged the challenge of eliminating silos. “It is essential to understand how much a company is open to change before appealing to a specialist in digital transformation. It’s also essential to ensure that a CDO is supported in his or her attempts to eliminate silos,” warns Egon Zehnder.

Interestingly, CDOs feel they’re more supported by CEOs than by CFOs. CEOs must ensure, though, that other executives support long-term transformation. “If not, they’re unlikely to be full partners of the CDOs and in some cases, can even slow down change,” Egon Zehnder’s report states.

Full story: Chief Digital Officer, un poste à géométrie variable. Yannick Chavanne, ICT Journal. 28 August 2019.

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