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Building a digital leadership team

by James Brayshaw | April 30, 2015 | No Comments

Forward-thinking organisations have spent the past few years lobbying and recruiting for new leadership positions which will help their businesses thrive in the digital age. Now, the Chief Data Officer, the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Digital Officer can all have a place at the board room table. But what do they all do? Are expectations the same across all businesses? And does your organisation need them?


In March, the UK government appointed its first Chief Data Officer, giving further credibility to a role embraced by commercial businesses for the past few years. By 2017 says Gartner, 25% of organisations 1 will have a Chief Data Officer, and this figure rises to 50% for heavily-regulated industries such as banking and finance. Where historically the role of data management has fallen within the remit of IT, now many businesses are shifting this outside the IT environment under the remit of the Chief Data Officer.  Managed well and maintained with accuracy and precision, data can be a company’s biggest asset – a rich source of information to drive customer engagement. Conversely, data which is poor quality, out-of-date or inaccurate can cost businesses $13.5m a year.


But there are inconsistencies with recruiting for this appointment, with some businesses using it as a way of relieving the CIO of a part of his or her job which is becoming a huge and complex burden. The role of Chief Data Officer varies from organisation to organisation, from industry to industry. Some CDO roles require a background in maths and engineering, encouraging candidates of IT heritage and creating a role of CDO more closely aligned with that of the Chief Information Officer.  Some require legal, compliance and risk management experience.  Others look for marketing experience, seeking candidates with an in-depth understanding of customer data.


Even the remit of CDO varies widely. Some CDO positions call for an individual who will take responsibility for rolling out data modelling methodologies, data lifecycle management, data security and capacity planning, while others are looking for someone to harness the power of data, and foster a culture of collaboration and transparency with the customer at its very heart. Of course, there are always going to be variances based on business size, industry and strategic direction, but an inconsistent approach to the role’s accountability isn’t helping candidates, customers or stakeholders – or indeed the reputation of the Chief Data Officer.


More clearly defined and consistent is the role of the Chief Innovation Officer. Recent research2 found that for 61% of CEOs, innovation is a priority, and 75% of executives are concerned with not having enough ideas. Enter the CINO. The role of Chief Innovation Officer or CINO is another position increasingly common in the connected world of commerce. A decade ago, this was a role favoured amongst creative agencies and start-ups. Now 43% of large companies have a formally accountable innovation executive in place, compared with just 33% in 20113.  The CINO is someone who transforms a business’ approach to innovation to create real impact; to innovate around products, services and business processes; or as the Harvard Business Review4 eloquently puts it, “can counterbalance the natural killing instinct of a company’s business units and design a more innovation-friendly organisational environment”. The CINO often has a background in delivering high-profile technology implementations, backed up with strong business strategy experience and influencing skills.


The Chief Digital Officer, too, is a role becoming increasingly important to businesses. Despite the CDO acronym being bandied between Chief Data Officer and Chief Digital Officer, the roles are very different. Both roles, though, are increasing in number and popularity. In the UK alone, the number of Chief Digital Officers doubled in 2013 to 500 and was estimated to reach 1,000 by the end of 20145. The Chief Digital Officer can build bridges between the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Information Officer: customers expect an omnichannel experience, and meeting these expectations can fall beyond the remit of the CMO and CIO. The Chief Digital Officer can think strategically about optimising the digital landscape to improve the customer experience, drive growth and increase revenue. As likely to have a background in change management as in eCommerce or engineering, the person in this role has the passion to transform attitude and behaviours to create a truly digital business.



For a business to ready itself for success as a digital enterprise, it doesn’t necessarily have to create a host of new board-level positions. It does, however, need a strong team of inspirational leaders who understand and articulate the impact of physical and digital commerce on an organisation’s bottom line. It needs skilled, engaged staff empowered to drive true business transformation. And, above all, it needs to put customers at the very heart of its vision for the future.





1 Gartner, Inc

2 PwC and Corporate Executive Board

3 CapGemini Innovation Leadership

4 Harvard Business Review

5 Media Guardian


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