Home Chief Digital Officer (CDO): Technology + Marketing = New Enterprise Leader

Chief Digital Officer (CDO): Technology + Marketing = New Enterprise Leader

Guest author Esmeralda Swartz is chief marketing officer at MetraTech.

At the inaugural Chief Digital Officer Summit in New York in March, where I moderated a panel discussion with CDOs from such companies as Disney ABC Studios, BBC, PBS and Rogers, defining the emerging role of the CDO was a key topic.

The role of the chief digital officer (CDO) in the enterprise has gotten a great deal of attention in recent months. For example, Gartner predicted that by 2015, 25% of organizations will have a CDO and further estimated that 20% of chief information officers (CIOs) have already taken on the responsibilities of the CDO.

Perhaps the best known example of the impact and influence of CDOs came last fall, when the Obama campaign successfully leveraged a team of digital leaders. All the tools of the trade – text analytics, social network/media analysis, Web personalization, computational advertising and online experiments and testing, among other things – were used for re-elect the President of the United States.

So what exacty is a CDO, and what do they actually do?

Demystifying The CDO

In the digital age, how well information is used may determine the commercial success of products and services. Converting legacy thinking, skills and business practices – along with legacy systems (both back office and front office) – to react to the new digital reality can determine the how competitive legacy businesses can be – especially versus companies that were born digital.

Adapting to the digital era requires a new skill set that existing leadership teams, including CIOs, don’t necessarily possess. At many modern companies, it’s hard to find anything that is not related to digital in some way. How do you separate digital strategies from business strategies?

The answer is you can’t – and you shouldn’t. A successful digital strategy requires a holistic approach, involving Web, mobile, social and traditional platforms.

CDO: Hybrid Of Marketing & Technology

In order for a CDO to be successful, he or she must have the authority and responsibility to execute a digital strategy and not have to beg, borrow and steal from other organizations to get the job done. This is not about running an IT infrastructure. CDOs are responsible for analyzing information and knowing how to leverage it. They are also responsible for knowing how to reach audiences across different platforms.

This is why the CDO role is more of a hybrid between marketing and technology and sits at the right hand of the CEO. Digital expertise, once a subset of the marketing and IT departments, is becoming a growing discipline in its own right. The CDO is part chief marketing officer and part technologist, but an outward-facing rather than inward-looking business leader.


While it is true that all things digital are powered by technology, CIOs typically focus on back-office technology. They are not generally the internal champions of front-office innovations. The CDO has the responsibility to use technology to connect with the modern customer and craft the experience they get.

Technology must deliver the experience the customer wants, not just what the underlying systems happen to be able to support. The CDO has to be able to acquire information, use analytics to understand customer behavior, and make adjustments based on that data.

That means CDOs need to be able to adjust products, offers and pricing as well as how it is marketed and delivered to the marketplace.

In the digital era, business models cannot be limited to what legacy IT is able to support. Instead, all business systems, including monetization platforms, must adapt to deliver the experiences customers want. Making sure that happens is the true role of the CDO.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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