Here is a full interview I did with Matt Alderton for PM Network Magazine that only got published partially. I think you guys might find it interesting.
1. First of all, let’s define the role of “Chief Digital Officer” (CDO). What is a CDO, exactly? What does this person do, and why is their job important? How is this person different from a Chief Information Officer, or a Chief Technology Officer?
The three positions are not mutually exclusive nor does one replace the other.
Here are some rough definitions.
Focuses on technology and technological innovation.
Specializes in technical architecture, frameworks, platforms, deployments and R&D.
Ensures the technological stability of the organization, and drives technological research and innovation.
Education (in order of importance): Computer engineering / management / business.
Focuses on business processes, information architecture, and internal organizational workflows and finding the technology that best fits them.
Specializes in business processes, content architecture, production and management, strong technical background.
Ensures the integrity, production and dissemination of digital content throughout the organization; optimizes business processes.
Education: Business engineering / Computer engineering / Management
Focuses on communication, digital tools and business optimization
Specializes in using digital platforms/tools for internal/external communication and to drive business opportunities.
Ensures the integrity of the digital communication, drives business using digital channels
Education: Marketing (Communication) / Business / Management / Computer engineering
2. In your opinion and experience, is the CDO role becoming more common? Is demand for it growing? Why or why not? What’s driving the evolution of this new role?
Absolutely more common.
There are a couple factors which contributed to the evolution of the CDO role:
- the high adoption of social media by the public (consumers)
- the standardization of social media platforms with similar user experience: Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, Blogger, Wikipedia
- the standardization of content types (tweets, statuses, images, videos, comments, etc.)
- the standardization of the SAAS / SAAP (soft as a platform) model (businesses can use the same type of platforms with similar user experience)
In the past 10 years the digital consumer behavior, product usability and the type of networks and the SAAS platforms have converged.
The technological implication of a CTO is mainly focused on new product development and no longer on supporting an operational technological framework.
The business practices and information architecture are also pretty standardized, so the CIO mainly focuses on highly innovative business engineering or driving organizational change, no longer requiring a technological or content specialization.
Nowadays, with consumers converging in predictable usage patterns and networks, the focus is on communication.
The role of a CDO would be inputting all the existing pieces together (internal and external, earned and owned digital assets) into the optimal business configuration.
Thus the question is no longer what technologies should we develop in order to optimize our internal and external communication, but: which social networks we should use, and what existing technologies we should adopt internally. What is the optimal configuration for communicating internally and externally (with regulators, consumers, etc.)?
There is a clear business shift towards more open and transparent practices of communication. The CDO must have extraordinary understanding of the digital space from a communication, technology and social perspective.
3. Where (i.e., in what industries and at what types of companies) are you most likely to find a CDO, and why?
In B2C and public entities (municipalities, government).
Especially companies that deal directly with consumers, since by using the available social digital assets, they will irreversibly cross paths.
However, since behind every B there is a C, I’d say that all companies should at least consult a CDO/digital expert
4. In organizations that have one, is the CDO on par with other senior executives, such as the COO and the CMO? Or is the CDO a more junior role? Please explain.
By default, having a new position (that some might consider only a trend) and being younger (important) the CDO will not be considered on par with other executives.
Now, a smart CEO will take the CDO and protect the position until the latter gains enough traction inside the company to earn the respect of the other Cs.
The results will not be there right away. There is a team to be built, business cases to prove, communication philosophy and methods to change.
The best ally of the CDO should be the CMO, unfortunately it’s rarely the case. (Is a CEO ready to change his/her CMO for the strategic sake of developing a strong CDO practice?)
5. In your opinion, would a project manager make a good CDO? Why or why not? Specifically, what skills and experiences do project managers have that might qualify them for the CDO role?
Every C must be a manager. Period.
Now, I happen to believe that project management is the best way to get into business management.
A project manager understands with great precision, how resources are allocated, the budgets used and timelines respected.
A good project manager can develop unprecedented insight into the organizational issues of a company. Very often project managers have to deal with communication risks between departments, bad hires, unmotivated employees, unclear business objectives, client management issues, etc.
This experience is crucial in understanding how the business works and what needs to improve.
Now, take a digital seasoned PMP with business and digital communication experience and you have the potential for a great CDO.
6. What are employers looking for when they’re hiring a CDO? For example, are they looking for people with specific skill sets (e.g., risk management, project management, communications, IT, leadership, strategic planning), credentials (e.g., degrees, certifications, etc.) or experience (e.g., e-commerce, Internet marketing, social media)? Do they typically want someone from a digital background, or someone from a business background?
Many companies don’t understand the strategic necessity of having CDO. I guess most people learned about the title when Rachel (Sterne) become the CDO of NYC.
The decision to hire a CDO must come from a strategic plan focused on the evolution of the company, not merely improving the existing practices. The mission of a CDO is more specific than that of a CIO. In the case of the CIO, change management is about knowledge, processes, leadership, information management, collaboration and ERPs. The CDO has more concrete KPIs as: improving the direct communication internally as well as externally, and detecting actionable opportunities created by digital assets and platforms.
In terms of competency, it is much easier to have a digital basis and then develop marketing and business competencies.
Social media is always an asset since this is the revolution that created the CDO position in the first place.
I would be looking for a manager of a digital business in charge of marketing with a social media flavor.
Being PMP is a great asset, especially for those working in communications since there are very few managers with expert project management knowledge in the field.
Education, degrees, awards: Computer BSci, PMP, MBA, a couple awards like Cyber Lions or SxSW.
7. Where are most CDOs coming from? Are they being promoted from within? Are they coming from marketing departments? IT departments? Certain parts of the world (e.g., North America, Europe, Asia)? In other words: Where are employers getting CDO talent from?
On client side: from marketing departments, someone in charge of digital would be best (and this is one of the key reasons the CMO will not always get along with the CDO). Absolutely not IT. The focus of the CDO is communication over existing and new digital assets and platforms. You don’t want someone who will overthink the best technological configuration and ignore the business communication aspect.
Best source of talent: digital ad agency execs with a great understanding of social media and experience in your industry.
Absolutely North America. It’s the home of social media and we have the full spectrum of communication to deal with (from very open to closed networks). You want someone who will be able to see the big picture and scale it down to your specific business needs.
8. What can project managers do to groom themselves for a future as a CDO, in terms of developing appropriate skills, experience and education? What skills and/or experiences do most project managers lack that they should work on?
Project managers tend to be very technical. Many lack the ability to manage creative people, find creative solutions to business problems. (an ad agency PM is a good solution).
Also surprisingly, communication skills are also very often lacking. In order to be a successful exec, you need to develop communication charisma. Having a blog and writing smart stuff is not enough. Public speaking (panels, presentations, conferences) is a great way to practice for anyone interested in evolving into good executive material.
Thirdly, social media! If you think social media is fad, and you’re waiting for the bubble to burst, you’re the wrong person for the job. What are the business opportunities offered by social media, that go beyond having a Facebook fan page and tweeting your lunch? Above any technological hype (that might come and go – FB, G+, etc), the usage of social media will it only grow in the future? You need to embrace these realities in order to be a good CDO candidate.
9. How can project managers effectively market themselves as a superior CDO candidate? In other words: I’m a project manager submitting my resume for a CDO position. What’s your advice for me? How do I get noticed? How do I show employers that I’m the best person for the job?
Be passionate. Believe in what you want to do. Your goal is to help the organization tap into new business opportunities, become a more open organization, provide superior customer service, and eliminate costly technological and prejudiced business decisions (every company has some).
Put emphasis on: Communication, Digital, Business and Management – in this order.
Also, as an organization, if you want to hire a CDO only because your chairman read it on Forbes Magazine, you’re doing it wrong. This is a strategic business decision that will have a financial and cultural impact on your organization. Some businesses are more ready than others for this change.
10. What didn’t I ask about that you think is important? Any final thoughts or miscellaneous remarks?
In spite of recent economic debacles, we live in extraordinary times.
There are more opportunities than ever, for business and professionals.
A great educational foundation is only the beginning. Openness, transparency, care and intelligence are qualities that we shouldn’t only expect from businesses but also from ourselves.