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The CDO many challenges

I was privileged to facilitate a round table at the AMPLEXOR Digital Circle in Paris. Attendees consisted of CDOs of several French enterprises spanning across verticals (industry, services, manufacturing). The interesting agenda contents and presentation drove full attendance. Caroline Faillet, netnologue, walked the audience through the principles of digital war based on the famous Sun Tzu’s treatise. Her book demonstrates how to conquer your customers digitally.The attendees then brainstormed on how blockchain opens up possibilities in their Marketing field.

Various experience sharing during the round table captivated the attention of the participants. To my surprise one question totally stormed the room and kicked off a heated debate : “The role of the CDO is fairly new in your respective companies, how do the CEOs and the boards measure your success ?”

The following points stood out during the lively discussion :

  • All CDOs have mandates that require them to work transversally in the Enterprise. The digital transformation is not a Marketing only endeavor and needs to be the cornerstone of the overall enterprise strategy. When this is not the case, the impact of a CDO shrinks. The role will turn into a title used by a board to tick a box or perform a PR exercise. Some participants even advocated that the CDO role should be temporary, a three year stunt to lead the digital transformation, once the enterprise lives and breathes digitally, the function becomes obsolete. Many quoted the creation of communities as a recent used case of this transversal mission. A participant shared how active communities in a B2B2C environment totally transformed the customer experience, developed a culture of empowerment internally, unsettled product development who had direct feedback and directions from external knowledgeable experts. In a traditional French enterprise, the CDO has to be a risk taker supported by the CEO and board even if the transformation goes beyond the initial expectations. When the executive support and communication fail, when the CDO and teams are isolated from the other departments, the digital transformation becomes a nightmare. An employee of a French car manufacturer shared how the digital PMO was perceived by many as a threat, a spying eye that will add extra effort and bureaucracy. Clearly not a recipe for success.
  • The other touchy point turns out to be the relationship and collaboration with the CIO/CTO. In some smaller companies he/she can be the IT Director. Any CDO needs this person as their best pal and a true partner, yet reality often proves otherwise. The “IT people” often act as worst enemy or passive aggressive counterparts. This whole situation is a hush-hush mine field. I queried about the root cause of the issue:
  1. The CDOs and CIOs follow conflicting objectives. CIO needs to run the infra- structure and systems on a very tight budget often facing demands to drastically reduce expenses. They may resent the new Marketing guy with a fancy title who runs an increasing budget. In this situation it is not rare for the CIO to use their technical expertise as a No can’t do attitude.
  2. The CIOs very often need to maintain old legacy systems. The technical requirements for a digital transformation have not been qualified, planned of thought through, leaving the technical teams powerless and frustrated.
  3. The CEOs and board who should prevent these conflicts may consider IT as a necessary evil and fail to link the success of a digital transformation with a much needed technology investment. In case of a private business living on a long tradition and relying on family shareholders, some CEOs shy away from requesting hefty IT investments.

As a result more and more CIOs are appointed CDOs. They may lack the growth hacking techniques but have a definite advantage in the technology bargaining. The discussion at the Amplexor Digital Circle continued over diner. Looking at this highly energetic crowd I reflected on what the perfect CDO needs to be :

  1. Politically savvy to convince the board
  2. A change leader to work across the enterprise
  3. Somewhat of a geek to inspire the CIO

and yes of course, a great growth hacker and communicator. A rare bird indeed !

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VGB