What it is Like to be a Digital Leader?

Digital leader
Digital leader

Digital leader is capable of driving digital transformation across industries

Essentially, it’s a C-level executive whose main role is to drive growth and strategic renewal by transforming an organization’s traditional analog businesses into digital ones, with a special focus on creating new value through the smart use of digital tools, platforms, and technologies, services, and processes.

In broad terms, the traditional CIO could be said to be a manager of continuity while the CDIO is the manager of change. Companies know they need to balance the continuity of the current business on the one hand with rapid technological change and deep strategic renewal on the other, which is why the two separate leadership roles now exist. Then again, a large number of CIOs are trying to bridge the gap between the two, blurring both roles and making the position of CDIO obsolete.

Time will tell if this is a better way of doing things. CIOs certainly need to transition into a more modern role in the organization, for one reason a rising percentage of a company’s tech spending, which is now at a 10-year high across all industries, is now managed outside of the traditional IT function. But in my experience, few executives are ambidextrous enough to excel at both ends of the business spectrum. Inevitably, CIOs tend to find themselves focused inward at the company’s existing business operations, while CDIOs’ eyeballs are looking outward at issues like customer loyalty, brand experience, future strategy, and the creation of new business models and revenue streams. It’s very tough to manage these two opposite perspectives at the same time, and it also requires different mindsets, skills, and expertise.

In a larger number of companies, and particularly in customer-facing industries, the CDIO started out as an extension to the traditional marketing function, answering to the CMO, and responsible primarily for new digital activities such as social media, mobile apps, and the digital customer experience. Statistically, in fact, around two-thirds of today’s CDIOs still reside within the company’s marketing function, while only about one-third report to the CIO or CTO. In my opinion, both of these constellations are sub-optimal, and I would tend to give the CDIO a superior rank on the organization chart, at least on the same level as the CIO, CTO, or CMO, and, where appropriate, perhaps even one level higher.

First and foremost, the CDIO’s job is to be a digital leader, someone who is capable of successfully driving the transformation effort across the whole enterprise on a multi-year journey to digital excellence. That’s a lot to expect from any individual, but it also represents perhaps today’s most exciting and important corporate role, as companies face up to the new strategic challenges and business imperatives of the digital economy.

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