CDO Roles On The Rise as Companies Make Digital Strategy a Priority.

W ith digital strategy such a prominent focus at today’s transformational organizations, the chief digital officer (CDO) position is, in turn, on the rise, according to the “2016 Global Chief Digital Officer Study,” by Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business.

Indeed, just last month, Mars hired Infosys executive Sandeep Dodlani as CDO. The increase in the position is evidence that companies are putting their money where their mouths are, and making a concerted effort to become digital organizations, said Mathias Herzog, a partner at Strategy&. Of the 2,500 companies analyzed globally, 19% have a CDO, up from 6% the year prior. Additionally, 60% of all CDOs identified were hired during 2016 and 2015.

“The major finding here is the number of CDOs in top global organizations has increased sharply from the last time we looked at the data,” Herzog said. “But the other really interesting finding for me was the background of these executives. There’s not a high concentration of CDOs that have a marketing background, but we do see a strong technology background as a common denominator.”

According to the report, 32% of digital leaders possess technology backgrounds, and while 40% are members of the C-suite, less than 5% are CMOs who hold the digital leader responsibility. So who’s leading the charge? Turns out, the majority (67%) of C-suite execs tasked with digital strategy are actual CDOs. However, Herzog noted, not every digital leader carries the CDO title.

“In some instances, we see an executive wear a double hat, where you might have a CDO that has a different title but performs the role of the CDO,” he said. For the 33% of CDOs wearing two hats, the CIO is most likely the one to perform the CDO duty, while 39% of execs have a marketing, sales, or customer service background.

The report also found that larger companies are more likely to have a CDO in place, as are companies based in North America and Europe.

Additionally, the majority of executives leading digital strategy are men (84%), and the insurance and banking industry has led the way in appointing CDOs over the course of the last year.

So what does the CDO actually do? According to the study, CDOs lead a company’s digital transformation by unifying the digital agenda. Oftentimes, according to Herzog, a digital leader is appointed within an organization only to find pockets of digital activity throughout the company. The job of the CDO is to help the company get closer to customers through better digital experiences. For some companies that has meant rethinking and restructuring internal operations; for others it has meant devising new business models, with both initiatives led by a CDO.

In addition, the CDO is responsible for figuring out the technology needs of an organization on its way to transformation. That means taking a look at legacy systems and figuring out whether an overhaul is necessary or point solutions can be brought in to work with what is already in place. According to the study, the CDO is also in charge of cross-company alignment and coordination. Other responsibilities: bridging the talent gap, setting the digital strategy, and ensuring buy-in across the organization.

“The biggest takeaway for organizations, in my opinion, is that there's a correlation between an organization’s aspiration for digital and the maturity by which they approach the topic,” Herzog said. “We’re seeing that an organization’s digital transformation journey’s success rate correlates with hiring a digital leader.”

Click here for the full study.