Lego Superman

Do you see the chief digital officer (CDO) as some kind of digital superhero, swooping in to rescue a dysfunctional business and transform it into a digital powerhouse? The truth is that chief digital officers can be very effective with strong CEO backing, but they are not always necessary. A business-savvy, customer-obsessed CIO can be as effective as a chief digital officer — sometimes more so.

Of course, it’s not any one title that matters; it’s the collective digital capabilities of all the business leaders and their teams that determine success or failure. In fact, CEOs are more likely to determine the success of digital transformation than a chief digital officer. It is very often the role the CEO plays as a digital leader that makes the difference. MicrosoftDBS, Home Depot, and Lloyds Bank all have digitally savvy CEOs standing behind their transformation strategy. If you’re looking to truly transform your business to become a digital business, you want your CEO leading the charge, not just your CDO.

Digital transformation is the responsibility of the entire executive team and the board. When the CEO has a business-savvy, customer-obsessed CMO working alongside a business-savvy, customer-obsessed CIO, between them they can help deliver a successful transformation without a chief digital officer (see Myth No. 2).

I’m not saying the chief digital officer role is without merit — far from it. Under the right circumstances and with the right CEO, a CDO acts as a catalyst to transform and accelerate the firm on its journey to become a digital business. And while many CDOs believe their role to be temporary, tomorrow’s CEOs will always need strong digital leaders across the executive board. I predict that many of today’s CDOs will become tomorrow’s COOs and CEOs.

Digital transformation success doesn’t require a great chief digital officer, but in the right environment, the right person can help.

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