The chief digital officer has always been a position that has struck me as a bit awkward as part chief marketing officer and part chief information officer. Since the CDO position started gaining traction about five years ago, most industry watchers have pegged it as a temporary role that would be displaced after the urgency of the early digital transformation efforts were complete.
The CDO being a transient position is still the prevailing view, but history has shown the popular opinion at any given time is not often the correct opinion. A survey released this week by digital services provider Mindtree found that the CDO may have more staying power than conventional wisdom suggests.
The survey, conducted among 323 global businesses and IT professionals in the U.S. and U.K. who work under a CDO, found that 76% of respondents believe the CDO position is becoming more relevant since the role was created. Only 7% believe the CDO role is less relevant today.
Eighty-one percent of respondents agreed that their organization likely needs a CDO. Mindtree’s survey also found that respondents believe their CDO has been effective at championing business-driving digital initiatives, including providing seamless digital experiences to customers (27%) and creating new business models (20%).
The survey found, not so surprisingly, that at 70% of respondent organizations, their chief digital officer comes from an IT background. And of those organizations, 84% claim to have made significant digital progress since their chief digital officer took their reins. Somewhat fewer organizations (73%) whose chief digital officer came from a non-IT background cited that they have made significant digital progress.
Still, challenges remain for CDOs if they are going to continue with their success. The survey found that about a third of organizations’ resistance to change is the largest obstacle in the way of chief digital officers, and 38% said they need to collaborate better across business units and find new digital talent in order to succeed.
The number of enterprises with a chief digital officer has grown significantly. According to the most recent annual Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, the percentage of enterprises with a CDO rose to 48% in 2018, up from only 25% in 2017. Still, the survey showed that most of those positions (about 90%) had chief digital officers in temporary positions, with one in five choosing instead to have their CIOs perform chief digital officer duties.
Whether or not the chief digital officer becomes a permanent corporate fixture or proves to be a bridge position, as enterprises play catch up with their digital transformation efforts, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: the work they are doing today is vital for the long-term success of the enterprises their working for.