Most Important Traits of Successful Chief Digital Officers: 50 Expert Insights on the Skills and Characteristics That Make a Dynamic, Effective CDO

The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is a C-suite role that’s gaining in prominence among enterprises, as more companies appoint qualified professionals to lead the charge in digital transformation and forge the digital path ahead. The CDO role first emerged several years ago, and some thought leaders say the role is a transitional one that may fade from prominence as organizations complete their digital transformation. Others, however, point out that a company’s digital transformation is never really complete, as new technologies are always on the horizon that promise to reshape (yet again) the way brands engage with their audiences across a variety of channels.

What this means is that the role of the CDO may not fade, but it is practically guaranteed to undergo its own shift in the course of time. In other words, companies need to seek out the right kind of digital leader to fill these roles – leaders who are not only comfortable with change, but innovative thinkers with the ability to create it and execute it, while inspiring teams to embrace it with enthusiasm.

To provide a deeper understanding of this dynamic role, we rounded up 50 expert insights on the background and experience required for a successful chief digital officer, important traits and characteristics, essential skills, and other insights that illustrate the makeup of this modern marketing-technology hybrid professional. In this guide, we’ll discuss:

Background and Experience of Successful Chief Digital Officers

1. The background and experience of a successful CDO may differ from one company to another. “When it comes to implementing a digital strategy, the new class of CDOs often encounter several major obstacles upon assuming their role: ad hoc digital initiatives spread throughout a large organization, lacking central oversight; a traditional culture that resists change; a gap in the talent required; and legacy systems and structures that threaten to derail their ambitions. The right CDO for your company will have the background and experience to tackle these issues. The mix of requisite skills won’t look the same at every company, but will enable a CDO to lead your organization’s digital transformation, to the point at which fundamental changes in organization, governance, capabilities, business processes, underlying technology architecture, and culture take hold.” – Pierre Peladeau, Mathias Herzog, and Olaf Acker, The New Class of Digital Leaders, strategy+business; Twitter: @stratandbiz

2. A successful CDO requires a mix of operational experience and management skills. “For many companies, especially those in the retail and leisure sectors, digital is the fastest- growing revenue stream, and a Chief Digital Officer (or, sometimes, SVP Online) is extremely important in driving that growth. In some sectors, such as traditional media, the CDO often will have been hired to help transform the company as its products evolve digitally.

“In both cases, the CDO needs to be someone who not only has digital acumen but also is a seasoned general manager who can operate within a large-scale business and influence effectively across the organization. This is a relatively new type of leader and one who is hard to find, attract and retain. The increasing importance of the role eventually will put CDOs in the queue for CEO succession. CDOs will be the executives with the operating experience, management skills, strategic mindset and vision to lead businesses in an increasingly technological future.” – Rhys Grossman, Jana Rich, The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer, Russell Reynolds Associates; Twitter: @RRAonLeadership

Despite the title of the role, a CDO doesn't have to have a computer science background.

3. While technology backgrounds are increasingly common among CDOs, a background in computer science isn’t an essential requirement for success. “Despite the title of the role, a CDO doesn’t have to have a computer science background. Indeed, they are likely to be more effective if they have a ‘business head,’ able to grasp the financial incentives that push the business forwards, and understand people skills too.

“The 2017 Strategy& research suggests organisations understand this. It found just 32% of CDOs have a technology background, and 39% have a marketing, sales or customer service background.

“Herb Van der Raad, director of consulting services at Cognifide, a technology consultancy that’s worked with Unilever, Ford and HSBC, tells IT Pro: ‘Digital isn’t about the tech. It means a change of mindset, culture and establishing some fundamental capabilities that are very intuitive but difficult to embed. Arguably the most important quality is being a bit of a disruptive influence.'” – Sandra Vogel, How to get the best from a chief digital officer, ITPro; Twitter: @ITPro

4. Ultimately, a mix of marketing prowess and technical know-how is the ideal background for today’s Chief Digital Officer – and that valuable blend of skills often translates to a higher paycheck. “Executives with a mix of marketing and tech know-how are more than just desired: They’re being paid more, too.

“A new study by digital marketing and IT staffing firm Mondo has found that chief digital officers top the list of highest paid digital marketing professionals, with salaries ranging from $148,000 to $280,000. Chief marketing technologist ($140,000 to $241,000) and chief marketing officer ($142,000 to $230,000) round out the top three highest paid digital marketing professions.” – Giselle Abramovich, Study: Chief Digital Officers Are The Highest Paid Digital Marketing Professionals,; Twitter: @CMO_com

Chief Digital Officer Roles and Responsibilities

5. Digital process innovation. “Serve as the executive sponsor for digital process innovation. Other executives might not be measured on new functionality or economies of scale that digital capabilities enable. For instance, consider the complexities of digitizing the mortgage loan application, and how that will impact a variety of existing business processes.” – Jill Dyche, 6 responsibilities of the Chief Digital Officer, CIO; Twitter: @CIOonline

6. Today’s CDOs are tasked with leading transformations. “While the position isn’t exactly new, what’s required of the average CDO is. Gone are the days of being responsible for introducing basic digital capabilities and perhaps piloting a handful of initiatives. The CDO is now a “transformer in chief,” charged with coordinating and managing comprehensive changes that address everything from updating how a company works to building out entirely new businesses. And he or she must make progress quickly.” – Tuck Rickards, Kate Smaje, and Vik Sohoni, The new chief digital officer, McKinsey; Twitter: @McKinsey

7. The role of the CDO has evolved into a symbol of an organization’s commitment to digital transformation. “When the title of CDO was first introduced to the [healthcare] industry, the executive was responsible for introducing basic technologies. The role has since evolved into a symbol of an organization’s commitment to true digital transformation, especially when the leader is recruited from outside of the industry.” – Alex Kacik, Ascension to hire chief digital officer, Modern Healthcare; Twitter: @modrnhealthcr

8. Today’s CDOs are taking on a wider variety of responsibilities. “The CDO role would seem an anachronism at a time when nearly every company is steeped in technology. But far from fading, the CDO role has in many cases grown in importance at many legacy businesses still struggling to adapt to the rapid changes of digital technology. The CDO role of the past tended to fall under the marketing department and was often focused on e-commerce. Many CDOs were something of figureheads, without their own departments. But at Tumi, NorthWestern Mutual and other brands including Nike and Morgan Stanley, the CDO role has matured — and taken on greater responsibilities.

“For instance, Lisa Schneider, who was promoted from chief digital product officer to CDO for Merriam-Webster last year, thinks this title change reflects both greater responsibilities and overall organizational structure shifts. As CDO, Schneider doesn’t only oversee digital product management, design, UX and product development as she used to but also editorial, marketing, social media and analytics.” – Yuyu Chen, ‘Not just the digital czar’: How the role of chief digital officer has evolved, Digiday; Twitter: @digiday

9. The primary function of a Chief Digital Officer is to leverage digital tools to enhance the customer experience. “Specific job responsibilities for a chief digital officer may vary depending on the type of organization; however, a primary job responsibility is to utilize digital tools to enhance the customer experience. General job responsibilities can include fostering acceptance of an organization’s digital strategy, promoting an organization’s online presence through sites like Google or social media applications, and overseeing lead generation activities designed to increase profits. Chief digital officers can conduct client presentations on enterprise technology platforms, such as collaboration and commerce. They may ensure field staff members are well-trained in customer interactions. Chief digital officers may also collaborate with executive management on developing a streamlined approach for organizational growth and overall business strategy.” – Chief Digital Officer: Job Description & Salary,; Twitter: @studydotcom

10. The role of a CDO typically falls into one of three core focus areas. “Chief digital officers at large corporations generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. Digital transformation czars, where their businesses are under threat of being ‘Uber-ized,’ and they need to be testing new, digitally-enabled products and go-to-market strategies. Examples are CDOs in insurance and retail, which are under serious threat from start-ups. Both industry sectors have a high incidence of CDOs due to their need to innovate quickly.
  2. Digital line-of-business general managers, whereby many organizations are creating significant ($100s of millions) new, digital lines of business, and require a sophisticated GM at the helm. Examples include companies such as SAP, GE, and Nike, where CDOs have been installed to champion these new lines of business.
  3. Digital marketing maestros, who use emerging online marketing techniques to get closer to customers, find innovative ways to increase customer engagement with their brands, and also make it easier for them to do digital commerce with them. Examples include Dunkin’ Donuts, Men’s Wearhouse, McDonald’s, L’Oreal and Domino’s Pizza.”

– Tim Bourgeois, What are the Skills, role and responbilities of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO)?, Quora; Twitter: @ChiefDigOfficer

11. CDOs are responsible for creating a channel-agnostic content strategy and framework. “Brands need to develop a content strategy and framework that is channel agnostic and driven by consumer behavior, and provides behavioral segment inflection points throughout the journey. They also need the ability to syndicate,  distribute, measure and optimize the content seamlessly across channels used by consumers.

“Together with data and marketing technology, content is the linchpin for enabling these always-on omni-channel consumer experiences.” – Mayur Gupta, 5 Ways Chief Digital Officers can Implement Digital Transformation in Healthcare, CDO Club; Twitter: @BeTheMedia

12. CDOs may be in charge of a company’s digital business unit. “In some firms, the CDO is essentially in charge of the online business unit, the e-commerce portion of the business. Russell Reynolds Associates, in their epic article on The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer, notes that in retail and leisure sectors, such digital businesses are the fastest growing revenue stream. At media companies, struggling to survive in a world that has redefined media, CDOs are the star-crossed warriors charged with building the digital properties and supporting business models on which their future depends.

“These scenarios make a lot of sense as business units.

“But the role and reach of the CDO seems to be evolving as rapidly as everything else related to the digital sphere — it’s actually quite hard to find something that isn’t related to digital in some way these days. CDOs are appearing in companies, not as explicit business unit owners, but as hybrid marketing-technology change agents at the right hand of the CEO.” – Scott Brinker, A CMO, a CIO, and a chief digital officer walk into a bar…, Chief Martec; Twitter: @chiefmartec

13. CDOs often work in tandem with marketing and creative leads as equal counterparts. “A lot of companies will say that digital is the most important investment, but then have the chief digital person report to the CMO. That sends the subconscious signal that digital is one level less than marketing. The reality is that digital and marketing are two very different and complementary domains.

“It’s marketing/brand’s job to best understand and engage the customer from an emotional perspective. It’s digital’s job to continuously test and measure the impact of our engagement efforts.

“I focus on how to provide the most immediate feedback on what’s working and what’s not so we can maximize our tactics. This calls for deep expertise in analytics, CRM, user experience, and marketing technology.

“Similarly, there’s a big distinction between the creative team and the digital team. Let’s say you ask Vincent Van Gogh and Stephen Hawking to design a website. Vincent will give you a beautiful picture on the website, but it could get terrible conversion. Stephen will give you something with binary code and no emotional connection.

“My job as the digital leader is not to draw the picture, but to test the guardrails set by higher levels of the organization. It’s up to my team to figure out whether we should use the same picture across multiple channels, what the most efficient way is to render that picture, who is responding, and whether that response meets our objectives.” – Charlie Cole, as quoted by Erica Seidel and Nadine Dietz, Tumi’s chief digital officer shares how his org is built to go ‘beyond incrementality’, Marketing Land; Twitter: @Marketingland

14. CDOs are uniquely positioned to measure ROI thanks to oversight across multiple disciplines. “Measure new efficiencies and ROI. Replacing manual processes with technology drives both cost savings and revenue generation. The CDO’s oversight across digital initiatives positions him or her uniquely well to measure success.” – Jill Dyche, The Six Key Functions of the Chief Digital Officer, Jill Dyche; Twitter: @jilldyche


15. Chief Digital Officers recognize shortcomings and find ways to leverage technology to improve processes or services. “The thing that healthcare hasn’t done well is learn from its own data. I think that’s going to be the next revolution. I don’t mean just from patient or medical data, but also data about its own processes, how it delivers care, how to optimize at every point, how to do things differently and creatively. There is so much to learn and gain from new technologies.

“We’ve been delving a lot into the machine learning and AI space. Being an innovative and digital platform-focused team, a lot of the driving forces are centered around technologies like AI, ML, AR and VR, and even things like blockchain.

“It’s about creating the right type of learning programs in AI, focused on the right type of data, and then delivering these insights to decision-makers and consumers at the point of care and learning. Data is just part of the equation. One small part of the equation. Without it, certainly the equation is not complete.” – Neil Gomes, Chief Digital Officer at Jefferson Health, as quoted in The new age of saving lives,; Twitter: @CEOdotcom

16. CDOs need to be able to see past simply migrating to digital tools and seek to simplify “moments of truth” for customers. “We had a great start to our digital-transformation journey—budget, enthusiasm, energy. But we fell into the trap of not really understanding what a digital transformation was. We started using the phrase ‘digital transformation,’ migrated processes and tools to be more digital, and created a dedicated business unit, and thought we’d automatically see that transformation happen.

“For example, we decided to do more sales online. When we set it up, we then tried to force customers down the digital path. But many of them weren’t ready. The spirit of what we were doing was correct, but a complete understanding about what we were trying to do wasn’t there.

“After six months, we learned that just because you say it, it doesn’t make it so. A digital transformation isn’t about digitizing a channel or simply doing more things digitally. It’s a much broader scope than that. We’re really looking to improve and simplify customer ‘moments of truth’—and all the supporting processes that build a true omnichannel, world-class experience. We’re now working with each area in the business to help everyone think and act digitally for the things they control. And we’re starting to see real gains in productivity, simplification, cost reduction, and building on earlier gains focused on sales.” – Rob Roy, chief digital officer at Sprint, as quoted by Barr Seitz, How to build a data-first culture for a digital transformation, McKinsey & Company; Twitter: @McKinsey

Important Traits and Characteristics of Successful Chief Digital Officers

17. A successful CDO is an effective motivator and change leader. “A big part of the CDO’s job is not fussing with technology, but rather, being a change leader. That requires the ability to inspire and educate people. When the forces of disruption come knocking on enterprise doors, business leaders and employees are often reluctant to answer it.” – Joe McKendrick, The Jobs Of CDO: Chief Digital Officer, Chief Disruption Officer, Forbes; Twitter: @joemckendrick, @Forbes

18. A customer-centric mindset. “At one major company, despite repeated requests from the CEO that the CMO do a better job of managing the entire customer experience— including improved collaboration with sales and service on integrated channel initiatives and with the CIO on technology decisions to enable more relevant experiences in real time—designing workable operating models across these functions continued to elude the marketing, sales, service and technology departments.

“So the CEO created an entirely new role—the chief experience officer—to champion a higher level of customer-centricity, including setting direction for the execution of holistic customer experiences and being ultimately accountable for customer outcomes—responsibilities the CMO used to manage. Moreover, the CMO, as well as heads of sales, service and distribution, now report to her.

“Indeed, more and more companies are appointing chief experience officers, though they’re sometimes called chief customer officer or chief digital officer. Our research shows that mentions of such roles in key industry publications have more than doubled over the past three years, from 293 in 2010 to 727 in 2013. The new marketing mavens are found across industry sectors, from media and entertainment to industrial goods to energy. In fact, more than 6 percent of companies in the S&P 500 now have executives with one of these titles. And although many are relatively new to their positions, more than half are internal hires with significant history at their companies.” – Glen Hartman, How CMOs and CIOs Can Work Together to Win the Digital Customer, Accenture; Twitter: @Hartmanglen, @Accenture


19. Successful CDOs are innovators. “Media, technology, ecommerce and telecom companies have been at the forefront of digital innovation because they did not have a choice. Many of them are digital natives which created their products and services during the 1990s when the web and mobile technologies were emerging and thus had digital business models from the very beginning. But for businesses in other sectors, such as consumer goods, medical devices, travel and hospitality, the digital era poses the question of how digital technologies can be used to create new or replacement services for their clients. This could be an e-commerce business model, mobile apps, new devices or entirely new product lines which extend the business vertically or horizontally. The CDO as innovator role works best in B2C sectors where consumers are expecting more convenient or modern solutions. In some cases, this is also an opportunity for digital officers to create radical new products which bypass competitors and create entire new categories. Digital officers tasked with innovation need to have a curious mindset and strong listening skills. They need to act as a bridge between client needs and emerging technologies that look out 10 to 15 years into the future.” – Falguni Desai, The Many Faces Of The Chief Digital Officer, Forbes; Twitter: @faldesai, @Forbes

20. Chief digital officers must be storytellers. “Future technological innovation will bring big opportunities and success will come to those who remain consumer focused. No matter how complex and shiny their product is, CDOs must remember that digital technology at its best allows for personal experiences. Great digital storytelling and user experience are the underpinnings for nearly every digital transformation.

“So far, the trend is that CDOs generally come from PR, Marketing or Communications backgrounds and this is a good thing. A great CDO should be a former technology outsider, someone who knows where technology innovation is best served and how to tell that story. A person who knows what it takes to create a sensory and potentially emotional experience for customers with a product or service.” – Adriaan Bouten, 5 Skills Every Chief Digital Officer Needs…, Digital Prism Advisors; Twitter: @dprism1

21. The best CDOs are resilient. “To successfully complete the digital transformation journey, the CDO will need to be resilient, particularly in ‘traditional’ companies, because digital transformation will require substantial changes. In such companies, colleagues of CDOs, both at managerial and at staff levels, won’t always readily embrace the profound changes required for digital transformation.” – Anna Singh and Thomas Hess,  Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) (Germany), How Chief Digital Officers Promote the Digital Transformation of their Companies, MIS Quarterly Executive

22. CDOs are visionaries with the foresight to conceptualize something new out of digital capabilities. ” Even today, digital is treated by most organizations solely as a channel. This is because legacy businesses already deliver products and services through traditional channels. Creating something new could be as bold as forming a new entity that delivers business outcomes exclusively through digital channels (mobile, social, web, wearables). This dramatic shift can take multiple forms, including:

  • Building a challenger brand that operates as a competitor to the legacy business; and/or,
  • Creating an autonomous team internally that supports lines of business but also has some semblance of a profit and loss”

– The rise of the Chief Digital Officer, Deloitte Digital; Twitter: @DeloitteDigital

23. Many CDOs are digital natives. “It is often seen as just an alternative title to CMO or CIO, but that is not the case. What’s the difference? It changes company by company, but whereas CIOs tend to come from a more tech and data background and CMOs from communications, CDOs come from the digital native generation. These people grew up with a laptop in their room and played FIFA electronic games before they played football in the park. They’re the generation that has made us realise there is no such thing as social media – all media is social.

“Similarly, in terms of commerce and marketing, it’s no longer whether something is digital or not – everything is digital in some way, and it’s technology that drives digital. As Accenture points out: ‘Marketing is so inextricably linked to technology that by 2017, CMOs are projected to spend more money on information technology and analytics than CIOs, a remarkable development considering that CMOs regard digital orientation as their weakest capability – at the exact moment when it needs to be their strongest.'” – Steve Grout, The rise of the chief digital officer, The Guardian; Twitter: @GuardianUS

24. CDOs are often charismatic and outgoing. “CDOs are likely to be somewhat charismatic and outgoing. But they also understand that gaining the title is not an ego trip. It’s about the customers and partners who depend on the enterprise and its employees, Ramji says. Ideally, a CDO would be a ‘creative, driven leader who innately looks across departmental and corporate boundaries to solve large-scale problems.’ Such an individual feels comfortable ‘as a culture broker, establishing a single vision that spans businesses and technologies and being the active champion who gets everyone on board to execute that vision.'” – Sam Ramji, as quoted by Joe McKendrick, 8 key duties of the chief digital officer, ZDNet; Twitter: @ZDNet

25. A successful CDO is a lot like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. “The Lion must be a leader. He must be a leader by providing the vision, governance and insight to understand where an organization currently is on its journey heading down the Yellow-Brick Road. Lead in the visualization of the potential of a digitally enabled organization and provide guidance on traversing the gap to get there. Dorothy already has her smart digital Ruby Shoes, but she doesn’t know at least three key aspects to fully use them (up to now she is only been using them to walk in). First is to operate them properly…click the heels and input the data properly by reciting her wish three times, Second, that her smart digital device when combined with a well managed quest will transform her performance and her companions performances. Third is the personal relationship transformation experienced by the Munchkins, Witches and other assorted characters that she interacts with. Dorothy and her companions are hailed as heroes, including winning the loyalty and support of the Lollypop Guild. The Lion, by providing leadership, can make all these wishes become a reality.” – Corey Glickman, Want to be a Chief Digital Officer? Be prepared to be the Cowardly Lion., Capgemini; Twitter: @Capgemini

26. The best CDOs are strategic thinkers. “Leaders must connect digital implications to utility performance goals, and work on countering megatrends, competitive positioning, financial outcomes, and regulatory imperatives.” – Jagoron Mukherjee and Earl Simpkins, Do Utilities Need a Chief Digital Officer?, strategy+business; Twitter: @stratandbiz

27. The leadership ability to bridge conflicts between marketing and technology. “Unlike CIOs, CDOs aren’t concerned with equipment or tactics of how data is moved, but rather where that data is going and how it is used. And unlike CMOs, who still find themselves primarily immersed in brand and advertising, they can see every digital touchpoint including purchase, delivery and service. As a result, they have a much more complete picture of the customer’s experience.

“For now, CDOs are seen as the people who can step in to fill gaps and deficiencies while simultaneously bridging conflicts between marketing and technology. That is, if you can find a good one. ‘Right now, there aren’t enough people with the right mix of technical knowledge, business experience and consumer-orientation in the market,’ one client tells us. And while many digitally-proficient execs are getting called in interviews, ‘too many CDO candidates think this is about advertising and PR,’ adds another. ‘What we need is a business leader with marketing emphasis.'” – Chan Suh, Is 2014 the Year of the Chief Digital Officer?, WIRED; Twitter: @WIRED

28. An obsession with the consumer. “A key challenge facing CDOs is developing a deep and detailed view of customer behavior across all channels in a challenging, competitive landscape where consumers are empowered by digital technology to easily take their business elsewhere. The CDO must distill this insight into strategy that informs both businesses and technology decisions across the company.

“Just like other major industries, getting closer to consumers and creating a dialogue with them is becoming an advantage—and this is something CDOs can help drive. In fact, according to McKinsey, successful CDOs obsess over the customer; they make knowing the customer ‘a driving passion and competency of the organization.’

“Ultimately, CDOs need to leverage ongoing customer intelligence to inspire cultural and technological transformation and deliver value to the business. ‘With technology and customer habits changing so quickly, developing a deep and detailed view of customer behavior across all channels provides a common reference point in any business discussion and arms the CDO to challenge the status quo and make changes,’ the McKinsey report explains.” – Mitch Scott, The rise of chief digital officers in fashion, luxury and beauty retail, Alida; Twitter: @visioncritical

29. A laser focus on monetization. “While the CIO and the CDO are both concerned with digital information, their responsibilities diverge sharply.

“‘The role of IT in the past has been to procure and secure IT equipment for the company, lock [data] up and bolt it down,’ says Jason Brown, the CDO for trade show and event management company George Little Management. ‘Whereas with digital content, you want to get it out to the world so the rest of the world can see it and access it. I don’t care about Exchange servers, Web servers or any of that stuff,’ continues Brown, who was hired in September 2011 as George Little’s first-ever CDO, reporting to the company’s CEO. (Previously he worked as a vice president of digital media for what is now events and media company UBM Canon.)

“‘I’m interested in building products that can be monetized,’ he says. ‘Companies need to look at their products and see areas where they can make money digitally.'” – Jason Brown, as quoted by Todd R. Weiss, Chief Digital Officer: Hot new tech title or flash in the pan?, ComputerWorld; Twitter: @Computerworld

30. A forward-thinking mindset to lead their company through the ever-changing landscape of digital advances. “One of the greatest challenges for the CDO of the future will be linking disparate silos within an organisation and translating them externally into a 360-degree view of both primary and secondary customers to extract value. This is a challenge that needs to be driven and driven hard and is not something in the remit of a CEO to be spending 100% of her/his time on.

“To think of an organisation as ever being digitally transformed is also a very unlikely scenario. When I joined Cisco 17 years ago, there was no real wireless internet adoption, look how the world has changed since then. It may be a good parallel to look at technology like we look at televisions, every year they get better and cheaper and bring new features.

“With these rapid changes in technologies and their ever growing e-outcomes, organisations need to view digital transformation as a continually moving target. Whether internally or externally sourced, CEOs and their boards will need to attract talented executives who, regardless of job title, understand the potential impact of digital disruption.” – Matthew Smith, The end of the Chief Digital Officer, or just the end of the beginning?, The Stack; Twitter: @StackTime

31. CDOs must be flexible. “CDOs can be the catalyst to drive digital transformation; however, to be successful they need to be flexible. On the one hand they are thoroughbred digital purists, as much at home in the social media editorial policy meeting as they are in the depths of a morning developer ‘stand up.’ On the other, they speak corporate speak, mix it with the c-suite and the politics of the board and their skin is hardened from the unrelenting onslaught of naysayers.

“This latter skill is often overlooked, either by the individual or the recruiting organisation. Nobody is naive about digital anymore. It’s more likely an organisation’s digital activities will be failing to deliver expected value, and a belief will develop that things have to be done differently. Unfortunately many organisations fail to take time to conduct an honest appraisal of their current capabilities in digital and balance that against a well articulated vision of where they actually want to get to.” – Paul Randle, Chief digital officers have the toughest jobs of all, The Guardian; Twitter: @GuardianUS

32. An entrepreneurial mindset and willingness to engage in trial and error. “The strategic exploitation of rapidly evolving technological opportunities and the implementation of digital innovations in the company
illustrate the CDO’s entrepreneur role. Of particular importance to the CDO in this context is a culture of
trial-and-error, which he deems necessary when dealing with innovations. According to him, it is critical to try out a lot of things and learn quickly from errors.

“In the course of digital innovation, the CDO constantly monitors emerging trends and innovations in the industry and analyzes how they could be adapted to the company. He is always on the lookout for companies who manage ‘digital’ exceptionally well and takes this as an inspiration. He then readily tries out what seems appropriate for adaptation in his company.” – Anna Horlacher  and Thomas Hess, What Does a Chief Digital Officer Do? Managerial Tasks and Roles of a New C-level Position in the Context of Digital Transformation., 2016 49th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, via Semantic Scholar

33. Successful Chief Digital Officers are trailblazers who strive for an end-to-end, holistic picture of the company’s service management. “Trailblazers need to start looking into the integration of predictive analytics into their service management environment. The next advancement for them is to regularly predict what kinds of service issues are coming and then prevent them.

“Non-trailblazers really should be thinking about a fully integrated vision for service management, end-to-end across apps, infrastructure and security. It must focus on private and public cloud for delivery and service management.

“Many enterprises are still thinking about service management in silos: an infrastructure view, a security view, an application view. They’re missing the end-to-end holistic picture that the trailblazers look at, which is everything in aggregate focused on business services rather than infrastructure services.” – Michael Kollar, IT trailblazers in the future, Atos; Twitter: @Atos

34. A burning desire to put the customer first. “I serve as the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at SAP, running the digital business and helping provide customers one seamless, digital experience. Since May 2017, I have been overseeing digital customer strategy for SAP across sales, customer success, support, and marketing. It’s a role that taps into my roots in marketing, multimedia, and e-commerce, developed during my long career with SAP; a career that began with companies including Apple Europe, Siemens-Nixorf, and Louis Vuitton. While at Siemens, I helped create their first e-commerce shop. I joined SAP in 2005, holding positions including Vice President of Strategy Management, Director of Business Operations and Director of Demand Planning & Marketing Analytics.

“From July 2014 until April 2017, I served as SAP’s senior vice president and chief of staff, for the Products & Innovation Executive Board Office. In this role, I was part of the Global Leadership Team and helped define the technology, product and investment strategy for SAP, supporting bid deals and customer escalations.

“What’s been a driving force during my entire career has been a desire to put the customer first. Just because SAP is a global company doesn’t mean we can’t simplify the buying process and provide top-notch service for every individual.” – Bertram Schulte, as quoted by Sudipto Ghosh, Interview with Bertram Schulte, Chief Digital Officer, SAP, MarTech Series; Twitter: @MarTechSeries

35. A blend of hard technical skills and relationship soft skills is key for a successful CDO. “But a significant challenge remains: Where will U.S. companies find the digital talent to fill the growing number of positions for CDOs, data scientists and other types of technologist?

“My organization believes tweens and teens are the answer. They already make up a quarter of the U.S. population and will account for more than 20 percent of the workforce in the next five years. Plus, my team’s research suggests many in this group have the temperament to become more than technicians; they show the foundational character of true technologists – an optimal mix of hard technical skills and relationship ‘soft skills’ acumen.

“Like Forrester, we expect that workers with a technologist’s mentality will be the vanguard of digital business evolution for companies of all shapes and sizes across the country along a broad spectrum of industries for decades to come.” – Eric Larson, Why today’s teen technologists will become tomorrow’s CDOs, Information Management; Twitter: @infomgmt

Required Skills for Successful Chief Digital Officers

36. CDOs require a large range of skills. “The CDO has a large range of skills, because he or she needs to be competent in every digital domain. This is so that he or she is able to manage everything and talk to all services of the company, understand their different needs, whilst also being able to speak to people that are more or less inclined to use technological tools.” – Alice Le, A Chief Digital Officer (CDO): Their Role, Their Stakes, Wimi; Twitter: @Wimi_pro

37. A successful CDO is an expert in data and analytics. “The necessity for using data and analytics in your day-to-day tasks is nothing new, but a qualified CDO will have the tools and expertise to ensure that you are using them properly. Many companies boast about their use of data, but without an expert they risk going in blind. Data analysis can help you identify customer behaviour and how to best exploit it, but the majority of data use is ‘dumb’. Determining behaviour is all very well, but analyzing the motives behind that behaviour is where the true value lies; a CDO should have the tools to do so.” – Sam Geapin, Why Many Major Companies Are Appointing CDOs, The Innovation Enterprise; Twitter: @IEGroup

38. CDOs must be able to unify the efforts of multiple functions to ensure a cohesive, consistent customer experience. “The Chief Digital Officer is not the Digital Director or the E-Commerce Director of the company. In many cases, e-commerce and digital management are operational and often distinct from one another. They depend either on Marketing and/or Communications in less mature companies or to Sales/Retail in companies with a strong e-commerce focus. In the most mature companies, they report directly to the President.

“A company’s digital success often relies on the quality of the relationship between digital e-commerce teams. However, in many companies, e-commerce strategies and content & social media strategies are not controlled by the same teams, making customers feel inconsistencies within the company.

“One of the CDO’s first tasks is to ensure consistency within this set, without necessarily being the head of E-Commerce and Digital, as his/her main mission is elsewhere.” – Dinesh Jebamani, How to Become a Chief Digital Officer and whats the role, Dinesh Jebamani

39. CDOs must be able to think holistically about how a company’s strategy is executed across multiple channels. “Where the CMO may be preoccupied revamping the company’s brand by pursuing a viral mobile app, IT may still be struggling with bring-your-own-device (BYOD). The CDO, meanwhile, can think holistically about how a company’s strategy is executed across all digital channels – such as mobile, the Internet of Things (IoT) and an increasingly important SaaS-based web – and can provide insight and recommendations on how to reconcile the digital experience for key target audiences.” – Neha Sampat, Every Company Needs A Chief Digital Officer, Tech Crunch; Twitter: @TechCrunch

40. A successful CDO couples experimentation with building scalable, efficient capabilities. “The CDO’s job is to turn the digital cacophony into a symphony. It’s OK to experiment with new businesses and tools, but experimentation must be coupled with building scalable, efficient capabilities. The CDO creates a unifying digital vision, energizes the company around digital possibilities, coordinates digital activities, helps to rethink products and processes for the digital age, and sometimes provides critical tools or resources. That’s why Starbucks — an early leader in all things digital — hired a CDO last year. And it’s why many other companies are naming CDOs before they get too far along the digital road.” – George Westerman, Should Your CIO Be Chief Digital Officer?, Harvard Business Review; Twitter: @HarvardBiz

41. Flawless execution and project management skills. “The greatest challenges facing CDOs will always be the execution of their digital transformations and digital strategies. The reason behind this is the fluid nature of the digital world, a digital transformation could change the entirety of your business model…obviously a dangerous proposition. Execution requires not just deep technical knowledge and great project management but the ability to navigate executive politics and cut through resistance to change. Resistance to change is perhaps the largest hurdle as it grows exponentially with the number of management layers. Winning CDOs will minimize this resistance by getting to know employees, understanding the management layers and using resistance busting methods like Agile.” – Adriaan Bouten, 5 Skills Every Chief Digital Officer Needs…, LinkedIn; Twitter: @dprism1

42. Networking. “Successful CDO’s are keenly aware of trends. They build networks of people, technologies, and ideas far outside of their company. Furthermore, they constantly scan the small-business landscape to identify possible acquisitions or partners that can provide complementary capabilities.” – Joram Timmerman, The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Role in the Recruiting, Staffing and Professional Service Business, Talent Peaks; Twitter:  @JoramTimmerman


43. The ability to work closely in collaboration with the CEO, CIO, CMO, and other C-suite executives. “Getting the strategy right requires the CDO to work closely with the CEO, the chief information officer (CIO), business-unit leaders, and the chief financial officer; the CDO also needs to be an active participant in and shaper of the strategy. An important foundation for CDOs to establish credibility and secure a seat at the strategy table is providing detailed analysis of market trends and developments in technology and customer behavior, both inside and outside the sector.

“Yet CDOs can’t stop there. They need to bring a bold vision: 65 percent of companies that are ‘digital leaders’ in our DQ analysis have a high tolerance for bold initiatives; among average performers, 70 percent of companies don’t see support for risk taking. This vision could include starting new businesses, acquiring technologies, or investing in innovations—one CDO we know made it his mantra to drive agile as a new software-development methodology for 40 percent of the company’s projects. No matter how it’s branded, CDOs need to be known within their organization for something that is courageous, new, and adds value.” – Tuck Rickards, Kate Smaje, and Vik Sohoni, ‘Transformer in chief’: The new chief digital officer, McKinsey & Company; Twitter: @McKinsey

44. CDOs must be able to break down silos and create a 360-degree view of the customer. “The first priority for CDOs is breaking down silos to attain a 360-degree view of the customer journey, not a collection of “optimized” touchpoints and experiences. A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report found that 86 percent of senior marketing executives thought that they would own the end-to-end customer journey by 2020, yet also found that increasing marketing complexity challenges that assumption. This is where a CDO is particularly useful, because meeting that challenge poses an interesting question: How many people within a retail organization have a stake in – and therefore are tinkering with – the digital ways customers connect with the brand?” – Madeline Ng, Aligning Retail Marketing Priorities With Chief Digital Officers: Defeating the Digital Frankenstein, TotalRetail; Twitter: @MyTotalRetail

45. The ability to connect internal processes with external drivers. “Digital leaders need vision, stamina, persistence, technical know-how and the ability to cascade this across the c-suite and throughout the organisation.

“In terms of implementation – bringing the whole organisation into the digital era – the key competencies we look for among digital leaders at Boyden include the ability to:

  • Professionalise and web-enable end-to-end people processes throughout the organisation;
  • Foster collaboration and information exchanges between communities of knowledge workers to maximise productivity and speed-to-market;
  • Adapt traditional organisation models to the new demands of the digital world, involving not only client-facing activities but also support, internal and operations activities;
  • Acquire and integrate new businesses that further the strategic goals of the organisation.

“The most successful candidates are those with a 360-degree focus who connect internal processes with external drivers. ‘For example, the physical distribution network and fulfilment processes should be optimally designed to support digitally-enabled, multi-channel go-to-market strategies from both a cost and customer experience perspective,’ comments Pierre Fouques Duparc, Managing Partner and Leader of Global Technology & Digital Practice at Boyden.” Global Technology & Digital Practice: The Chief Digital Officer takes centre stage, Boyden; Twitter: @BoydenGC

46. CDOs ultimately work towards making their role obsolete. Many may move on to become CEOs. “The mark of success for CDOs may be that they have worked themselves out of a job in three years; they have helped the organisation become immersed in digital, at which point, their main objective has been achieved and they may shift to more specialised roles.

“We also may see CDOs becoming CEOs over time. The attributes of successful CDOs — the ability to determine which digital advancements align with the strategy, the ability to build credibility while leading cross-functional teams and the ability to unite an organization under the banner of a digital strategy — are ones that would serve a CEO well. In a climate of rapid digital innovation, the CDO’s story is likely just beginning.” – Grant Duncan, Will the Chief Digital Officer Become Obsolete or Your Next CEO?, Leadership Matters; Twitter: @SpencerStuart


47. The ability to assess the organization’s capacity for change. “Changing minds takes time.

“To be effective, the CDO with a thousand new ideas needs to understand how much change each idea requires. Then he needs to create systems and training that help make each change successful. ‘Who’s training the sales force about what it means for them? Who’s talking to the product managers?’ Heller [Martha Heller, President of executive search firm Heller Search Associates] asks.

“A strategic plan for digital transformation certainly can roll out at a pace that stretches the organization, and some upheaval is inevitable.

“But overwhelming employees and breaking processes with too much simultaneous change isn’t digital transformation; it’s just chaos.” – Derek Slater, 3 Overlooked Attributes of a Great Chief Digital Officer, ConnectedFutures; Twitter: @CFuturesMag

48. A focus on strategy, governance, and execution. “Success as a CDO requires a focus on strategy, governance and execution. Strong people skills are critical, since digital transformation is a cultural shift, not a technology problem.” – David Weldon, 20 best practices of top chief digital officers, Information Management; Twitter: @infomgmt

49. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are poised to transform personalization, and a successful CDO is one who is ready to embrace the upcoming technology shifts. “I think about VR (Virtual Reality), AI (Artificial Intelligence), and machine learning and I think that is where the world is going. But, for us to get there, we still have to hit this next stage of digital transformation around one-to-one communication. I would love to see 2018 be the year that we are finally able to get more customers on the side of one-to-one to communication than not. I think when that starts to happen, all of these other things start to become the next stage. If you skip over that first stage, and you go into some of these more advanced ways of communication then you are really going to miss out. Personally, from a business prospective, I would love to see 2018 be the year that personalization is almost the ‘norm.'” – Jeff McPherson, Partners & Personalization: A Conversation with Chief Digital Officer, Jeff McPherson, SilverTech; Twitter: @jmcpherson

50. The best CDOs have a deep understanding of digital, the IT landscape, and what consumers are looking for. “It is important to have someone in leadership who truly understands digital, who knows the IT landscape, who knows what consumers are looking for, and can drive revenue from your channels and improve ROI.

“Let’s start with the basic premise. The role of the CDO encompasses what a lot of great CIOs and CMOs already do. They are customer and data driven, they keep up-to-date with emerging technologies, and they have experience rolling out and delivering on projects on a large scale.” – Nicki Burns, Understanding the role of the Chief Digital Officer, TalMix; Twitter: @wearetalmix

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