8 key duties of the chief digital officer

What is this thing called 'chief digital officer'? Here's a job description.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

What is this new thing called "chief digital officer"?  How does this role differ from that of chief information officer?  What should a job description look like?

Sam Ramji, vice president of strategy at Apigee, has been watching the emergence of this new C-title, and made some observations as to where these individuals should be focusing their efforts. He describes his epiphany coming from listening to digital leaders at the recent Chief Digital Officer Global Forum. (See -- they even have their own forum now...)

Here are 8 key roles that should go into the job description of the chief digital officer:

1) Develop a 30-second explanation of the digital strategy. The first thing the CDO should strive to do is to explain, in a very succinct way, how a digital transformation will help the organization "meet the challenges of a mobile-first world, digital partnerships, and new forms of competition," as well as "build a consistent experience for customers across different lines of business in order to produce network effects for the enterprise," says Ramji.

2) Earn company-wide commitment for the digital strategy. CDOs are likely to be somewhat charismatic and outgoing. But they also understand that gaining the title is not an ego trip. It's about the customers and partners who depend on the enterprise and its employees, Ramji says. Ideally, a CDO would be a "creative, driven leader who innately looks across departmental and corporate boundaries to solve large-scale problems." Such an individual feels comfortable "as a culture broker, establishing a single vision that spans businesses and technologies and being the active champion who gets everyone on board to execute that vision."

3) Embrace data-based experimentation. The CDO needs to facilitate the ability to experiment repeatedly in the digital realm, with the expectation that failure is the most important part of innovation.

4) Connect with experts in the company and the broader industry. The CDO understands "how the business works—and doesn’t work—at a fundamental level." They "know how to get things done," Ramji says.

5) Speak multiple business languages (IT, marketing, strategy, finance). A CDO should have a background in business management, and thus understand "the language of P&Ls, KPIs, and change management," Ramjo says. At the same time, these individuals should have also "spent years surrounded by developers working on everything from enterprise systems to mobile devices."

6) Drive for tangible and measurable results. The CDO aims to develop new revenue streams, achieve higher efficiency, and enable faster time to market -- all the vital things important to the business.

7) Keep the strategy fresh by staying up to date with the latest innovations, changes in competition, and shifts in the market. The CDO is charged with communicating the organization's digital vision, "and simplifying it over time so that it’s embedded in every employee," says Ramji. At the same time, the CDO should keep adapting the strategy over time "to meet the movement of the market and the practicalities of execution."

8) Maintain focus on and commitment to executing the strategy for multiple years. The CDO understands that digital innovation won't happen overnight. He or she should be "prepared to keep at this for the three to five years it will take, and have the emotional energy to keep overcoming 'innovation fatigue' and entrenched resistance to change," says Ramji. 

(Thumbnail photo: IBM Media Relations.)

Editorial standards