The Emergence of Chief Digital Officers

As social and other digital technologies shift responsibilities in the C-suite, businesses are creating a new position, the chief digital officer or CDO, to focus their digital strategy. This is the fifth and final piece in our series on how social business is changing power dynamics in the C-suite.

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A new force is stepping into the C-suite — an upstart whose arrival signals how a company will manage social media and other digital technologies: the chief digital officer, or CDO. Appearing in many industries, CDOs share a similar mandate: provide oversight and strategy, and create a big-picture view of how social and digital technologies can make a difference to the entire organization.

One industry where CDOs are making headway is in higher education. The increased interest and activity in delivery of online classes and the rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are spurring administrators to take a deeper look at the role of social and other digital technologies in delivering educational content.

One newly appointed chief digital officer is Sree Sreenivasan at Columbia University. Sreenivasan, who was appointed to his position in July 2012 and reports to the Provost, told us that Columbia created his position to have a single person be responsible for cataloging, coordinating and shepherding what was going on in digital delivery of education, and to think about all of these changes from a broader strategic level. In 2011, Harvard also appointed a CDO, Perry Hewitt, who describes her mission at Harvard on her Web site as providing “comprehensive digital strategy to meet needs in communications, engagement, and transaction, as well as exploring ways that organizations transform through and for their digital constituencies.”

Like education, the media industry also has a deep and fundamental relationship with digital content. According to Tuck Rickards, who is a leader in the executive search firm Russell Reynolds’ Digital Transformation Practice, his firm first saw “strong signs of interest in the CDO role 18–24 months ago,” and it initally appeared in the media and retail industries. Now, Rickards says, CDOs are showing up in organizations in financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, and “to a greater or lesser extent, across all industries.” Rickards adds that the CDO trend seems to be impacting primarily Fortune 1000 firms.

Other very recent indicators of interest in the position include the recently sold out Chief Digital Officer Summit, held in New York City on February 28, 2013; a widely reported panel discussion at the recent

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Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

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Comment (1)
Chris Bernard
CDO are critical in establishing proper digital marketing strategy decisions within the organization. CMO's are often experienced in both online and offline digital strategies but with the pace of change in the digital space it would be considered unfair to make CMO's solely responsible for all the daily, sometimes monumental, adjustments being done in digital.  Spot on - thanks for writing this article! Chris Bernard - Founder & CDO of dock29 marketing (