The rate of digital transformation we've witnessed in business in recent years is staggering, though not unexpected. As the world becomes increasingly digitised, businesses are under pressure to transform their operations or risk getting left behind. 
This has given rise to the role of Chief Digital Officer, whose task is to facilitate a strategic implementation of processes and technologies that drive the company towards a more advanced digital position. A relatively new role, the increasing importance of the CDO is highlighted as one of our Seven Executive Trends for 2016.
But does every business need one?
There is no industry untouched by the digital revolution, and virtually every business is feeling some degree of pressure to become digitally focused.  While some industries are under intense pressure to transform as soon as possible, eventually this pressure will be felt by everyone.  Forward-thinking companies are investing in digital expertise now, and the demand for CDOs is being driven by companies who want to ensure digital is at the centre of their operations and see investment in digital as the best means of effectively future-proofing their business for the foreseeable future.  
To deliver this kind of transformation, the CDO must take an active role in educating the various stakeholders across the business to achieve buy-in on their strategic vision. Because digital transformation tends to impact a number of business units, the ability to communicate effectively across various teams, each with their own objectives and priorities, and reconcile these into a single vision is a key aspect of the role.  
This reflects the 'bridging' nature of the CDO role and their key role in breaking down traditionally siloed departments to effect change and drive innovation across the business. For this reason, companies seeking a CDO are after candidates who have experience liaising with senior stakeholders in a corporate environment and who understand the processes and technologies that underpin corporate structure.  While this doesn't discount candidates with an agency background entirely, we do see a preference for candidates whose experience was gleaned in corporate settings, most often in larger corporate organisations. 
Often the candidates we've placed in to CDO roles come with some exposure to international experience and those who've worked in more mature digital markets, such as the UK and US, are sought after for their experience working with more advanced technologies and a deeper understanding of digital trends. 
This doesn't necessarily mean Australian companies are looking internationally for their CDO's - the digital talent pool in Australia is very healthy, and the majority of candidates we place are currently working in Australian organisations.
When recruiting a CDO, companies need to ensure they have a clear idea of what change they want to implement and a roadmap for getting there.  This plan should have the support of all affected stakeholders (CMO, CTO, CFO etc) and these business heads should be consulted during the recruitment process to clearly identify what is expected from the CDO.
Without this clear vision, companies may struggle to attract top performers to the role.  These are highly talented, driven individuals with an appetite for change and a desire to make their mark on an organisation. We've seen candidates decline offers that are otherwise lucrative, because they found the strategic vision to be lacking.
The background of desirable CDO candidates tends to differ depending on how far along a company’s transformation journey has progressed, and how acutely they are feeling the pressure to transform.  Industries and sectors that are experiencing major upheaval and a need for rapid transformation, such as media, retail, telecommunications and financial services, tend to seek out candidates with more of a pure digital background.  Those under less pressure tend to lean towards candidates from a marketing or technology background who have a sound understanding of digital trends and technologies.
Due to the rapidly changing nature of digital, the need for a CDO to be nimble is paramount.  Experience in a start-up environment, whether an actual start-up company, or a start-up driven department within a larger organisation, will strengthen a candidate's credentials.  Those who aspire to secure a CDO role in the future should focus on building their platform knowledge as well as their implementation experience.  Being able to demonstrate experience in developing strategy and as being both adaptable and versatile will speak to your ability to keep up with the quickly evolving digital landscape.  Be prepared to show that you have a clear vision for what you want to achieve, a roadmap for delivery and the appetite to do so.
Are you looking to find your next CDO? Ready to take the leap and become a CDO yourself? Get in touch via LinkedIn or [email protected] to discuss how I can help you meet your digital objectives.  


When considering whether its time for your organisation to hire a CDO, you should consider the following:
  • Where your company currently stands along the transformation process
  • How quickly you need to make this transformation
  • How clear your strategic vision is 
  • What experience you need to deliver this vision
  • Consulting with other business stakeholders to have a clear view on their requirements for the role
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