Forget CIO: If you want to run the company's tech strategy, here are the job titles to aim for

Gartner has come up with three distinct roles that its thinks will much more closely define the job of the digital chief in a rapidly changing tech world
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Three new executive roles are filling the gaps left by CIOs who are more interested in ERP than the broader digital strategy of the business.

According to analyst house Gartner, until recently, the only digital leader in most businesses was the CIO — a role that evolved when IT's main contribution to business success was the ERP system.

But the evolving digital world has exposed gaps in digital leadership and has lead to the creation of the chief digital office (CDO) role, which the analyst house said will exist within 25 percent of enterprises within 18 months.

But the role of the CDO needs to be brken down even further into three distinct roles rather than one, into digital strategy advisers (DSAs), digital market leaders (DMLs) or digital business unit leaders (DBULs).

In effect these roles replace three distinct ones from the pre-digital age: back office, front office and head office.

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Back office refers to everything required to run internal processes and includes IT systems that manage finance, HR, manufacturing, the supply chain and so on. Front office refers to everything relates to the customer experience, including end-to-end marketing from market analysis through product design, marketing campaigns and actions aimed at customer retention. Head office refers to enterprise strategy, including decisions to enter or exit markets, allocate resources and create competitive advantage.

For the digital age, Gartner believes that the terminology is inaccurate and no longer adequate, hence the three new digital leaders.

The Digital Strategic Adviser (DSA) is there to advise the board, CEO and executives on the question, "How will we survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world?" Gartner said this exec "may also lead teams executing on this digital vision particularly when combined with another role, such as CIO or digital business unit leader".

The Digital Marketing Leader (DML), will ensures that the end-to-end marketing strategy and its execution is as good as it can be with top-notch design and creation of digital products and a focus on new markets and channels. The DML will have a special responsibility for market retention - holding on to customers, and so may have a marketing background.

The Digital Business Unit Leader (DBUL) is "the CEO of online/digital business units", Gartner said. The DBUL is defined as focusing solely on online or digital channels and digital products and services. The business model and products sold by this business unit "may or may not be the same as those sold by other business units". says Gartner. This could be a role filled by the CIO — at a stretch.

Surprisingly perhaps, Gartner does not see this new role as particularly long-lasting but one that may need to be in place for "five to 10 years". The exact length, "will depend on how fast your business absorbs digital into its DNA".

The important thing, Gartner said, "is not to obsess about specific aspects of digital (for example, exploiting social media as a customer communications channel) at the expense of other aspects" and "don't follow fashions or fads, but prioritize and customise digital leadership roles that work for your business".

Gartner has a specific set of rules laid out:

  • Don't be swayed by fashions or trends; ensure that you have the right set of digital leaders in the right roles for your enterprise, and review frequently.
  • Ensure that your business's view of digital opportunities and threats is comprehensive; don't get overly obsessed with one aspect at the expense of others. 
  • Whatever set of digital leaders are in place, have formal and informal oversight and decision making mechanisms to ensure integration of the information, technology assets and capabilities that underpin the digital enterprise.

While Gartner is defining new rolls for IT people senior analyst Dave Aron does not believe all three roles are equal. "Every organisation needs the first two (DSA and DML) but not every organisation needs the third," he said.

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