Digital technology is making organisational evolution unavoidable. This will not be a one-off reorganisation, but a constant stream of activity in pursuit of Digital excellence. A deliberate Digital Strategy must be adopted and sanctioned, and a process of ongoing Digital Transformation executed.
In the past, leading Digital Transformation has fallen to the CTO or the CMO. In particularly ill-advised cases it may have been given to a Transformation, Finance or HR team. These efforts tend to fail, as leaders fail to develop the very specialist skills required, the pressures of traditional roles compete for time, attention and budget with the demands of Digital Transformation and corporate silos get in the way of true company-wide disruption from inside.
Digital Transformation is enabled by Technology. As such, the CDO must be a technologist. But technology is not the entire picture. As important is the creation of an Agile, networked organisation, so the CDO must also be skilled in the discipline of organisational design. Digital Transformation places the user at the centre of everything the company does, so the CDO must be a master of customer-centred practices such as Service Design and Design Thinking. And the business must be able to execute and embed change while developing innovative business models at scale, so the CDO must be a high-calibre Programme Manager and have great Commercial acumen.
Most importantly, organisations must resist the temptation to spread these accountabilities widely. A single point of accountability and board-level empowerment are crucial success factors. Finally, the appointment of a CDO is a strong signal to the organisation, the market and the customers that this is a company fully committed to Digital success.
Define and communicate the role and mandate of the CDO
Digital Transformation is very difficult, so every care must be placed in removing additional complexity and avoiding dilution of accountability. While the CDO must be a beacon of collaborative working practices, the must have a clear mandate to make changes happen across the business, regardless of departmental structures and turfs. Their role is to disrupt the business. A healthy dose of tension is to be expected and resistance must not be allowed to prevent progress.
Externally, the CDO plays 2 crucial roles:
- She is the conduit for new technologies, frameworks and ways of working into the organisation, always up to speed with the latest developments, testing constantly and scaling those that are appropriate.
- She is also the main Digital ambassador to the outside world, vocally celebrating success and actively nurturing a network of innovators, thought leaders and partners. Openness and collaboration are Digital necessities, and the CDO must be your organisation’s most active participant in the wider Digital community.
Determine success measures and communicate progress constantly
Digital Strategy can be difficult to explain to colleagues. A suitably ambitious description of the end goal is necessary but can feel daunting and distant. In order to set your CDO for success, you should agree on a set of short-term, easily explained goals. Then, make a habit of regularly measuring and widely communicating results.
This will not only enable the CDO to show that progress is being made, but also will give her a platform to speak to colleagues, celebrate wins, listen to and address concerns, remind them of the end goal and, most important, embed Digital ways of working: holding retrospectives on her own work for all to attend.
Appoint a CDO
If you’re serious about digital Transformation, appoint a CDO. Make the CDO accountable for, and give her the mandate to, keeping the company ahead of Digital disruption. Enable her to adapt to change as it happens. Challenge her to anticipate and innovate, giving you a competitive advantage. Constant Digital evolution is a reality. Appointing a CDO is inescapable.