In 2019, companies need CDOs more than ever to make sense of the massive amounts of the data generated daily.

In most data-driven companies, the CDO is not only in charge of driving companies forward in their digital transformation journeys but also an indispensable member of the C-suite.

The first CDO was appointed in 2002 by Capital One. At that time, the job description involved a combination of supply chain management, data analyses and IT projects. However, today with more than 250 terabytes of data generated every day, a CDO’s job has become more complex. In the past, CTOs and CIOs would implement initiatives that digitised processes to improve efficiency in certain departments. A Transformer in Chief, as McKinsey calls it, does more than updating how the company works. The job involves re-thinking the entire configuration of the company, from suppliers to end consumer.

A good CDO understands that digital is a core value of the company’s culture and should be integrated into all aspects of the business. That’s why this role has a strategic component. A company doesn’t fix things as it goes but builds a digital strategy from the start.

The CDO will always work closely with the CEO and CIO. Except for being an invaluable strategist and analyst, the CDO is the creative force that drives value by bringing in the latest trends technology trends.

CDOs have a genuine interest in consumer insights. Knowing who the customer is and mapping a customer journey is imperative for building a lucrative action plan. The CDO should represent the “voice of the customer”, communicate customer feedback to the executive team and remind everybody what the ultimate purpose of the business is.

A CDO is also responsible for changing the corporate culture by infusing digital values in the organisation. Some of the initiatives involve the organisation of coding days or company-wide hackathons and increasing the pace of working, i.e. short and concise meetings, rapid communication and faster decision making.

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Ultimately, CDOs are evaluated by their ability to implement strategies, lead digital teams, and liaise with different departments to deliver integrated change. They should be involved in developing new revenue streams, cutting costs and getting to market faster and not be engaged peripheral projects that would end up marginalising their projects.

Regarding the profile of a CDO, according to McKinsey, the ability to lead change across the organisation is one of the most valuable skills for this role. It is actually a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills include the ability to “articulate a strategic vision”, to identify the root cause of a problem and the thoroughness to solve it in due time. According to a Forrester research, CDOs spend 80 per cent of their time creating relationships. They need soft skills to liaise with other departments and persuasiveness to receive the acceptance of other heads of departments to drive the organisation forward.

The results of a Russell Reynolds survey show that CDOs are different from senior executives in five different ways: “they are on average 34 per cent more likely to be innovative and 32 per cent more likely to be disruptive, and also differ about the determination, the boldness of leadership, and social adeptness”.

In conclusion, leading a company’s digital transformation strategy requires a combination of social skills, bold thinking, and a high tolerance for risk. The Chief Digital Officer is an essential part of the C-suite and it will be interesting to see how it will evolve in the next years.