The IT department is expanding with some organisations appointing a CDO (Chief Digital Officer) to serve alongside a CIO. 

A CIO's and a CDO's responsibilities deal with the IT operations and strategies within the business. CIO UK takes a look at the differences between a CIO and a CDO and how they can both boost profits for the company. (Read next: Skills the CIO wants from the CDO.)

What's the difference between a CIO and a CDO? What is a CDO?

Digital technology has transformed business models and IT departments of some major organisations. And their business strategies have become reliant on both the roles of a CIO and a CDO to drive success within the organisation. The CIO’s role is increasingly becoming business driven while the employment of UK CDOs has increased to 25%, up 6% from last year, according to Harvey Nash.

The increasing opportunities for a CIO and a CDO see both roles working towards the same goal of driving success to the business through technology.

Within some organisations, the CDO and CIO roles can become blurred if they don't have a clear division of responsibilities. Clear reporting lines are also critical. 

Dependent on the sector a CDO can implement digital transformation which can free a CIO’s time to focus on operating IT.

The CDO’s responsibility is to experiment with new business tools and develop digital skills across the workforce. Typically the CDO would report to the CIO.

In 2017, Defra was advertising for a Chief Digital Officer reporting to Group CTO John Seglias with a salary of £115,000.

According to Harvey Nash, CDOs now earn an average salary of $167,321 (£128,320) in the UK and $175,303 (£134.440) worldwide.

According to Pwc, only a third of UK companies have a CDO in place. Conde Nast UK and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are currently hiring CDOs who will set a digital strategy across its organisations.

A challenge a CDO and a CIO can face together is overseeing the digital strategy.

A CIO's leadership skills have developed in aligning themselves with executives to produce a digital strategy for the company. The responsibility has increased in creating an efficient platform for users through digital innovation. Working with a focused CDO can help the CIO achieve this. 

What's the difference between a CIO and a CDO? Blurring of roles

In some companies, the CIO and a CDO are clearly defined and understood by their fellow executives.

The CIO influences digital decisions while also overseeing the IT operation across the workforce. A CDO can be seen as a supporting role to the CIO in developing digital initiatives to help the organisation.

CIO Richard Cross was recently appointed as group CDO for WS Atkins. It has combined the two roles to help focus on creating a commercialised strategy for the organisation.

“To deliver our One Atkins business strategy, we are developing an IS for our strategy that at its core has an information systems organisation that is commercially focused, closer to the business and closer to our customers – in essence, an IS organisation that runs as a business, not as a function,” he said.

Cross believes rather than him having two separate job titles at Atkins, as the CDO role being the evolution of a CIO role.

“As CDO, I have developed, and own the implementation of, the digital strategy for Atkins,” he said. “Digital will transform our industry. Everything Atkins does, and the services we provide to clients, will change.“

Cross’ leadership and digital processes have enabled the engineering firm to see the potential of Big Data and re-engineer how they work internally. 

Executives need to clearly define the two roles to keep the business structure running smoothly. Organisations need to combine the two IT leading responsibilities to drive value and boost profits.

The role of a CDO remains influential in IT with recent appointments made by Nike and Hearst UK to help drive digital transformation. Low Cost Travel Group’s CIO Franceso De Marchis has seen a CDO’s digital offerings enable a new generation of CIOs in business today which combine the roles of a CDO and CIO.

“Being a CIO in the digital era means that I must bridge the gap between business and technology in a way that helps the business take a leap forward,” he said. “I am the evangelist of what technology can bring to the table to enhance and expand the company roadmap and get closer to our customer’s needs."

A CDO’s main priorities will focus on the latest technological innovations while also improving customer engagement. A CIO can focus on making IT investments and cutting costs, while both roles support each other. (See also: What's the difference between a CIO and a CTO?

What's the difference between a CIO and a CDO? Making way for a CDO

The CDO can take up the responsibility of a CIO when implementing a new business model. The CDO will align the digital and consumer world to create an efficient platform for users.

CIO 100 organisations including The Economist and NHS Blood and Transport have hired Chief Digital Officers; with Belron’s CIO Nick Burton believing CDOs can “understand the approaches to digital” to help drive innovation. (See also: Belron focusing on Big Data and cloud to improve customer experience.)

The CDO’s role has become valued by executives with 50% of companies employing a CDO by 2017, according to Gartner.

CDOs can bridge the gap between the CIO and the marketing department by focusing on meeting the customer’s needs through digital products.

As the Chief Digital Officer role emerges in the C-suite today, Sharon Cooper has seen her promotion from CTO to CDO enforce several changes at medical journal BMJ.

“[My promotion] has led to the responsibility for our experience/R&D lab, a venture I helped set up two years ago, as well as direct P&L responsibility for one of our key digital portfolios,” she said.

Cooper has seen her recent appointment allow her to play a key role in every executive decision they make at BMJ.

“Running the technology team which develops those products, predominantly in-house, can help shape every product and its experience ensuring it meets the customer and business needs.”

Since Cooper’s promotion, BMJ has seen a reduction in department costs, a more consistent customer service and an effective approach to product development. (See also: BMJ Chief Digital Officer Sharon Cooper Q&A - CDO role and retaining tech talent.) 

The two IT roles need to work together to achieve success in the business with both CIOs and CDOs communicating and working collaboratively to implement a digital strategy. 

Comments from leading CDOs and experts

Last year, CIO UK shared its tips on becoming a Chief Digital Officer, citing communication and a data focus as ways of earning credibility in the role. While getting first-hand experience from customers is vital in understanding the business it can also help CDO’s meet growing user demands.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was recently looking to recuit a Chief Digital Officer. It will see the CDO work with the Mayor’s Office, local authorities and the technology sector to help push London’s digital services to the next level.

Here we speak to Chief Digital Officers and leading experts who share their perspectives on what the CDO role means to them.

Alan Mumby, Head of the CIO Group at Odgers Berndtson, said that CDO salaries can depend on skills, experience and on the company. Mumby said that Odgers is seeing a salary of less than £100,000 in the public sector, to a sum of £250,000-300,000 for other sectors.

"My objective is revenue, strategy, customer loyalty and the brand. The difference is that the CTO role was more about delivering products, this is still about delivering products, but there is a greater focus on strategic decisions so I am working with marketing, sales and editorial to create a blueprint for the digital business."
Jora Gill, The Economist Chief Digital Officer


"You could say I'm the bandleader. I don't get caught up on the title; in some cases the CIO will fulfil this kind role and may not change the title."
Bill Ruh, GE Chief Digital Officer


“I'd be tempted to say that if all companies were digital throughout, then there wouldn't be a CDO role, but as I think it means different things to different companies, then it will still be a change agent, wherever it sits in the organisation, whether it's called a CDO or something else.”
Sharon Cooper, BMJ Chief Digital Officer


"I believe Chief Digital Officers will push further and further into the traditional IT space occupied by the CTO currently - as small digital services replace big outsourced contracts, the role will change to reflect this. But not everyone needs a Chief Digital Officer - for instance the role might well be called a CIO if broadly all your IT has undergone transformation."
Arif Harbott, former Ministry of Justice Chief Digital and Information Officer


"It's partly strategic and a vision, but the Chief Digital Officer role is also about execution. And the cultural aspect. How do you get the business from thinking about IT to thinking about tech? How can you get the business to think more digitally, and to embrace digital?"
Sean Cornwell, Travelex Chief Digital Officer