Chief Digital Officers: Competition or Customers?

Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

Chief Digital Officer
Have you heard of the hot new job title known as the Chief Digital Officers or CDO? If you have not you might want to think about this: is it a position that your company needs, is this a possible new customer for your services, and what are the different roles of the CDO?
According to market research, the number of jobs in this position is expected to grow rapidly. Gartner, for example, has predicted that by 2015, 25% of all organizations will have a person acting as a CDO. But not all CDO’s will do the same thing. There are different responsibilities in different vertical markets. Some will be more strategic, others more tactical, and some create new business models based on changing needs.
These positions are popping up in a variety of different industries. Higher education is one of first organizations to adopt CDOs because of the need to offer online courses and the rise of massive open online courses or MOOCs. At Columbia University, Sree Sreenivasan  is a CDO who is responsible for cataloging, coordinating, and shepherding the digital delivery of educational materials. At Harvard, there is Perry Hewitt who describes her mission as “comprehensive digital strategy to meet needs in communications, engagement, and transaction.”
More recently this is becoming an important role for large companies using digital technologies for marketing, advertising, and sales. The obvious reasons include over 200 million smart phones in use, over 41 million applications downloaded every day, and the bazillion messages occurring on social networking sites and searches. A good example is McDonald’s hiring of Atif Rafiq as the company’s first chief digital officer, overseeing global digital strategy and focusing on future growth in e-commerce, consumer engagement and modernizing the restaurant experience.
According to Nations Restaurant news, Rafiq will report to McDonald’s chief brand officer Steve Easterbrook who is quoted as saying, “Consumers visit and interact with our brand in multiple ways, and digital continues to grow increasingly important to them.”
Although the role of the CDO is evolving, I predict there will be three main types of CDOs:
1) Strategic Focus: SEO, social media, online and local marketing. Search engine optimization (SEO) is evolving due to the increased importance of video, and social media, local, and conversation based searches (Google Hummingbird). As a result, there is a growing need for higher level of integration of technology and messaging. The CDO will likely serve as a change agent integrating strategies and tactics across a wide variety of C-level staff.
2) Tactical Emphasis: e-commerce and sales. At a more tactical level, this CDO will focus more on how to drive traffic, measure leads, nurture leads and convert leads. As opposed to the strategic role mentioned above, these are more specific which could become services you offer for smaller companies who are looking for new ways to sell and market their services.
3) Facilitating a digital substitution of older technologies. These skills will become more important in publishing and printing companies. Magazine, newspapers, and book publishers are struggling with the new business model that incorporates digital delivery of content. This is an opportunity for printing companies as they are looking to migrate from print-centric strategies to cross-media marketing in which print is one component of the communication mix. Last, but not least, this is both a threat and opportunity for transactional printers who are actively debating if they should continue printing bills and statements or migrate to electronic versions.
Gartner expects the number of CDOs to triple in the next 12 months, and these digital specialists will probably report to the marketing department. What do you think:

  • Your company will hire a CDO?
  • Your future customers will be CDO’s?

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Howie Fenton is a consultant and business advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.

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