Is having a chief digital officer the need of the hour?

Updated: Feb 19, 2018 05:50:47 PM UTC
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It's all about survival in the digital economy

We are not unfamiliar with the fact that businesses today are in a constant state of flux. The discourse around digital economy suggests that digitisation is a business transformer and not merely a technology trend. To play catch up with the mega-trends that are shaping businesses today, organisations need to go that extra mile to stay relevant.

For organisations, which not just aim to ride on the digital wave but rather want to lead the way, a new generation C-suite leader, who could bridge this gap to spearhead the organisations towards a digital future, is super critical.

Need for a digital leader Some organisations are chasing the shiny object (read: digital trends that shape the future) without creating an integrated digital strategy aligned to the overall business strategy. These adhoc digital interventions might give you a quick head-start but without clearly defining the goals, paths and capabilities needed to get there, it is bound to hit a rock bottom.

Organisations need to embrace digital both from the inside and on the outside and a chief digital officer (CDO) is tasked with just that.

To articulate the roadmap of a winning digital strategy, one has to do three things:

1. Understand the digital landscape, which is disrupting the business (and also the specific industry – as it is not a one-size-fits-all approach) and contextualise it with the transformational challenges that the organisation is facing.
2. Assess capability gaps.
3. Identify the end-state and then create an action plan to get there.

Only after laying out this plan should an organisation identify the individual who makes the cut.

Identifying the chief digital officer
Every organisation must determine the specific strategic goals from digital and then choose the CDO who can best devise the digital strategy to meet those organisation needs and objectives.

With the endeavor to create a future-proof digital enterprise, the CDO’s goals should be designed in a way that they directly drive the business goals. The articulation and implementation of a comprehensive digital strategy should challenge the status quo across the organisation’s entire value chain. This can only happen if the organisation reimagines business processes, behaviors, organisation culture and also its practices through all possible touchpoints.

Another important part of a CDO’s role is to embed digital in the mindset of the business for cross-functional transformation. By breaking the silos and uniting business with technology, the CDO should work closely with the CEO and the chief investment and chief technology officer and make digital integral to business strategy.

The chief development officer can work with different members of the C-suite to act as a catalyst for cross-functional and overall digital transformation.

1. Work with the chief marketing officer to shift the envelope on digital marketing and customer experience;
2. Collaborate with the chief strategy officer to leverage strategic business opportunities of growth or provide an alternative way of thinking about the business strategy in the digital world
3. Work with chief operations officer to use technology, e.g., cloud to optimise and accelerate operations internally and externally, and much more.

Assessing pitfalls and measures of success
As is the case with every new idea, this idea’s execution also throws a few challenges, which broadly work at two layers – Operational and Talent.

With legacy systems and incompatible software platforms operating in pockets, integrating the digital strategy becomes an uphill task. Not just that, if there isn’t leadership buy-in, the business case for change doesn’t get to see the light of the day.

In addition to this, there’s of course a critical talent gap – lack of skilled workforce coupled with no specific training interventions to acquire cutting edge and contextual digital capabilities. The human resources needs to devise a talent strategy to assess and identify the skills they need based on the skills they lack. Also, the CDO must find his work around legacy frameworks of technology (and sometimes organisational hierarchy) to take the organisation forward so that he can put the digital agenda into practice.

What’s the way forward?
As per Gartner’s CIO Survey report, in 2016, 20 percent of Indian organisations are opting for CDO roles whereas the comparable percentage globally is 9 percent.

Indian organisations are reaching maturity and have started embracing the need to navigate through the legacy applications to the new age digital systems. A role in digital leadership, more than any other leadership role, has to get into the meats and potatoes of things that are constantly changing - with agility, along with keeping an eye out on the larger narrative of business disruption.

As the terrain is unfamiliar and the challenges anew, there is no best practice, which can demonstrate business impact for certain. But if we are cognizant of where we stand on the digital transformation journey right now and what is our goal, a digital ninja can deliver us from the troubled waters of the digital economy in this digital era.

By Sandeep Chaudhary, CEO, Aon India Consulting

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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