Too many chiefs? CDOs, CIOs, CMOs and where IT fits in the new pecking order

Chief data officer and chief digital officer roles are on the rise with significant implications for IT leaders and their position in relation to the top table.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor

Firms are ramping up plans to hire chief digital officers and chief data officers but CIOs are unlikely to be first in line to fill these new jobs.

On top of that, although the CIO role itself may not be under threat, it could end up far narrower than it is today, thanks to the rise of CDOs of both varieties and the cloud, according to Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Debra Logan.

"Chief digital officers tend to be more on the marketing and sales side. You could see a chief marketing officer evolving into the chief digital officer more easily than you could see a CIO, the way they are today," Logan said.

Data chiefs tend to have a more compliance-focused role and are emerging, for example, in banking and insurance and in companies with a burden of litigation and regulation, she said.

Digital officers look more towards innovating with data, using it to reach customers, and have more of a product development and innovation role. They are particularly appearing in retail, publishing and to some extent in government.

Adverse impact on CIO role

Logan said some CIOs could excel in either of the new positions but the CIO role itself will be adversely affected.

"I see that role being downgraded. If they report to the CFO or the COO, then they are regarded as somebody whose job it is to reduce cost, reduce cost, reduce cost, both in their own organisation and in other parts of the organisation, by automating stuff that can be automated, rather than to create value like the chief digital officer in particular is doing," she said.

Earlier this year, research suggested that 19 percent of business leaders expect to recruit a chief digital officer by 2014, while 17 percent foresee a chief data officer appointment.

According to Logan, CIOs looking to advance into one of the two new positions are more likely to gravitate towards the chief data officer role rather the digital one.

"Most CIOs as they are today — and you are getting a new breed emerging — are more cut out for the chief data officer role. But they don't necessarily have the skills because it takes a lot of knowledge about regulation," she said.

"A lot of CIOs who have come up through the ranks — particularly the older ones — they came in because they were technical and they got the technical stuff and they could also do spreadsheets on managing and hiring personnel."

Chief digital officer recruits

She said companies will be more likely to fill the chief digital officer post from the ranks of marketing and sales executives than from IT. Chief data officers will probably be found today working in security, risk and compliance or leading the legal department.

The skills that chief digital officers will need are more open-ended and creative than those typically found in IT and include an ability to exploit the vast datasets emerging from, for example, social media and an understanding of ways to facilitate internal and external communication and collaboration.

"So, how does this stuff work and how can we best reach people, and where are the places where our target audience is going? An understanding of that kind of software, how it works in the cloud, the whole universe of vendors, is so different from what the guys who built the infrastructure that gets our paycheques done really know about and think about," Logan said.

She argued that both the new roles bring value to a business even though that contribution is very different in nature.

"You've got to manage risk in a business and so that has a value but it's a preventative value rather than a positive one. It's seems a lot cheerier to be a chief digital officer: 'We're going to make money with data, we're going to create value, we're going to reach customers' — that kind of thing. But in a company that has to think hard about risk, the data officer is as valuable but in a different way."

Regardless of firms' plans to hire chief data and digital officers in addition to the existing CIO role, it is improbable that they will end up with all three titles.

"It seems unlikely just from a title proliferation point of view. But even if you won't end up with those titles you could end up with those roles," Logan said.

Piling new duties on the CIO

She said in many cases these new duties will just be piled on the CIO.

"That's something that happens a lot. But, first, in a really big company there's just not enough time to do them and, secondly, I don't think some of them can be done without additional training" Logan said.

"In smaller organisations that might happen but even then, particularly with the chief digital officer, you're more likely to see someone emerge from the marketing organisation or sales to get it piled on to them or to make it a broader part of their job description."

Logan said CIOs should be investigating these new areas of responsibility now and talking, for example, to legal officers about information governance.

"The CIO role is becoming more of an infrastructure manager, a sourcing manager, particularly an outsourcing manager, as people move data off their premises and have other people manage it," she said.

"Sometimes I tell them, 'Think about your career. Think about what's going to happen next and make up your mind where you want to be and what you want to do'. If I were anything under 45, I'd be thinking hard about this if I were a CIO at this point — and thinking about these other two roles."

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