Last week's CIO editorial questioned the validity of the Chief Digital Officer role and the hype surrounding it. The central tenant of the argument was that digital, like innovation is not a single item that needs a C-level leader, but a set of values that need to permeate the culture of an organisation, which in turn will ensure continued relevance of the organisation.
“Digital however – and there are few clear definitions – is a set of methods. These methods create information and arguably solidify the need for a CIO in your organisation. As a set of methods digital cannot therefore be the responsibility of just one business leader,” the editorial argues.
“Organisations don’t need a CDO, they need a digital culture. Three examples from The Social Challenge report back my argument. A credit card company has a ‘cross-disciplinary teams...made up technologists, marketers, customer experience professionals and others creating and delivering new products and services’. In effect a virtual department or a CDO that is the sum of parts from around the speciality skills needed to be a credit card supplier,” the Editor argues. You can read CDO job title is as pointless as Chief Innovation Officer here.
Response to the column has been strong and triggered a good debate on whether organisations really need a CDO or a culture change.
Below are the responses of CIO peers and business technology leaders.
Chris Price, recently appointed Head of Police Science and Technology Unit at the Home Office and formerly CIO of West Midlands Police disagrees:
“Surely gives a focus - as much as cIo (emphasis on the I) did previously? It’s not so much the technology as the benefit and transformational change.”
Price was CIO for the UK’s second largest police force for close to three years and told CIO UK in an interview about the CIO role in the police:
“There are tremendous challenges. The forces are very traditional in the way they do things. Some practices are from the dim and distant past. But, they are very interested in change.”
Simon Wardley, agreed with Price that there is a specific opportunity for the CDO. Wardley, formerly a Technology Director with Hermes Technology and now a leading thinking with the Leading Edge Forum, backed by CSC said:
“Not quite, for some CDOs meet a specific need.” Wardley’s work on IT value chain mapping has been influential in Whitehall.
Anthony Watson, CIO of sportswear maker and retailer Nike “totally agrees” with the Editor’s sentiment. When Watson was CIO of UK banking giant Barclays he called for greater investment in business and data analytics and security skills in a brace of articles for CIO UK.
Digital transformation consultant, CIO UK blogger and former evangelist for Microsoft, Matt Ballantine, who carried out the research which triggered the editorial said in a separate post with the same angle of argument "the CDO should be to help everyone deliver their contribution in ways that take advantage of the new possibilities.” Building on the view that CIOs are brokers in organisations; “Facilitator not deliverer. Problem is organisations only really reward deliverers...”
The Economist technology editor Pete Swabey added “CIOs are only established because firms recognised a need and invented the role” which suggests the CDO is following an identical path as the CIO and just as the CIO is today, will one day have to continually justify their position within the organisation.