5 skills every chief digital officer needs…

by | Jan 13, 2020

The rise of the Chief Digital Officer is here. By 2016, around half of Fortune 500 companies had CDOs navigating the waves of digital innovation and disruption in their businesses. It’s a progressive position, taking pressure off both overburdened CIOs and CMOs while helping to bridge IT with business strategy. That being said, it can be a little difficult to speak about what unites CDOs specifically as their roles vary from industry to industry: the big data strategy in banking is wildly different from the big data strategy in publishing. We can talk about what skills CDOs do need to succeed in this transitional role, what skills do CDOs need to thrive in the next decade of digital transformation.

Skill #1: Storytelling

Future technological innovation will bring big opportunities and success will come to those who remain consumer focused. No matter how complex and shiny their product is, CDOs must remember that digital technology at its best allows for personal experiences. Great digital storytelling and user experience are the underpinnings for nearly every digital transformation.

So far, the trend is that CDOs generally come from PR, Marketing or Communications backgrounds and this is a good thing. A great CDO should be a former technology outsider, someone who knows where technology innovation is best served and how to tell that story. A person who knows what it takes to create a sensory and potentially emotional experience for customers with a product or service.

Skill #2: Innovation

As mentioned, many CDOs are from PR, Marketing or Communications backgrounds. Ironically, this puts them in an ideal position to drive technological innovation because of their dual focus. By straddling technology and business, CDOs will have both the vantage point and the executive power to drive digital innovation. CDOs must have a strong sense of the zeitgeist in order to see potential and push towards it.

CDOs must also understand business model innovation. This means understanding both product innovation and process innovation which enables a company to arrive at a fresh and innovative new business model. Winning CDOs will push their companies to use digital technology to bring fresh ideas into the marketplace.

Skill #3: Understand new trends and products in technology

As a CEO recently told me, “We don’t need more technology executives, we need more executives who get technology.” CDOs must have a deep understanding of technology and the potential futures of technology, always remaining up-to-date on new digital trends and products. Success depends upon having a strong knowledge of what’s out there, what’s on the way, and the market trends governing both. CDOs must push their companies and fellow executives to maintain extreme awareness of what is current and what’s on the horizon, missing a single key product or trend could sink even the biggest company.

Skill #4: Execution

The greatest challenges facing CDOs will always be the execution of their digital transformations and digital strategies. The reason behind this is the fluid nature of the digital world, a digital transformation could change the entirety of your business model…obviously a dangerous proposition. Execution requires not just deep technical knowledge and great project management but the ability to navigate executive politics and cut through resistance to change. Resistance to change is perhaps the largest hurdle as it grows exponentially with the number of management layers. Winning CDOs will minimize this resistance by getting to know employees, understanding the management layers and using resistance busting methods like Agile.

Skill #5: Be Influential

As this list shows, CDOs must possess a diverse and powerful group of skills. CDOs exist to navigate a revolutionary change in how the world works and how business is conducted. Being at the forefront of this revolution means that CDOs must guide, must be pioneering, and must be influential. Being influential allows companies to gain momentum with their digital transformation and this is one of the greatest gifts a CDO can bestow. CDOs must positively influence other executives, the board of directors, staff, vendors, the competition, industry leaders and more. It is not a position for the meek…it is a position for forward looking, well-rounded, strategic thinkers ready to change how the world works.

Author Spotlight

Adriaan Bouten


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