Is the Chief Digital Officer trend set to follow in the same fatal footsteps as the Chief Innovation Officer and die off?  Over the years many have tried to modify the nomenclature of the CIO role (Chief Information Officer – for reasons of clarity) to stand for Chief Innovation Officer.  Many leading CIOs and this title have argued against the move as innovation is a culture and not a role for a single person whether they be C-level or not.  Likewise, digital is a cultural trend and therefore cannot be managed by a single business leader.

So what’s the difference and why can information be managed by a single business leader and not digital? Information is an asset and therefore it is a resource that an organisation of any size and type is gathering and creating as it goes about its day to day business.  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.

I base my argument on an interesting piece of research carried out by IG Digital and CIO columnist Matt Ballantine, The Social Challenge, which you can download from here.

Digital platforms and methods, for example an App or a social network, are altering marketplaces and therefore customer expectations. The pages of this title are littered with examples of vertical markets that have been drastically altered by entrants whose foundation is software, whether they are Skype, Ocado, Facebook or iTunes. Consumers, armed with a Smartphone, are becoming used to a constant ability to interact and transact with organisations. As a result organisations are expected to have a digital service.

A new wave of consumers, dubbed digital natives, has grown up knowing online as the primary resource for information and services. British Library CDO Richard Boulderstone recently told this title that today’s academia users are unaware of information outside of digital formats, a real challenge for a library. That same challenge is an opportunity to get closer to consumers. The Social Challenge report highlights a building supply wholesaler with a growing YouTube channel of How-to videos; just as the internet made every organisation a publisher, so social platforms like YouTube has made every organisation a broadcaster.

However The Social Challenge highlights the dangers of broadcasting, not only in the video sense, but how the use of social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and others is largely the responsibility of the Marketing department (40% of respondents to the Social Challenge report), who by their very nature are broadcasters of the corporate message and not equipped to engage in a two-way conversation that will discuss both the positive and the negative.

Which brings me back to my argument that organisations don’t need a CDO, they need a digital culture. Three examples from the 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. As Ballantine said at the launch of the report, social platforms are used by customers to “raise frustrations with a service provider”, he went on to detail the horrendous customer service a valued customer of mobile network EE had experienced.

Digital will be used to highlight technology problems – given the growing levels of technology interactions customers have; digital will be used to detail bad marketing, sharing a packaging typo or misplaced advertisement on Facebook; digital will be used to inform friends and family that your experience of an organisation is well below the standard you expect given what you pay; as EE and the nation’s rail service providers should know; the list can be exhaustive.

Business leaders from higher education and local government were highlighted by the report. Again, a single CDO cannot successfully engage with consumers of social services, tax payers, a disgruntled user of a car park or parents at a school.  The challenges around all of these services need to be engaged with by the experts in those fields. A resident wants to feel that when communicating by digital channels that they are engaging in a conversation with an expert who hopefully can deliver an outcome.

The Social Challenge report states “there is no clear view about how other digital channels might be integrated into working practices. Is a customer interaction coming via a channel like Twitter to be prioritized like email, like a phone call or in other ways?” The expertise in deciding how to interact with an issue will lie with the experts in that field. If there is a role for a CDO, it is to educate the organisation and all of its stakeholders on how to maximise and analyse digital interactions.

The digital environment is multi-channel. I know from my own experience as an Editor, your service has to exist on every channel available, whether new or old and that interactions are best dealt with by those involved in the service who understand the culture of the organisation and the customer base.

Digital has to be embraced into the culture of organisations and by embracing digital culture you may also develop and innovative culture. A digitally innovative culture will definitely create an important asset base of information.