A Practical Approach for IT Governance

Archive for April 2016

Think like a CDO – Act like a CIO

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Businesswoman giving business card to client in office


In two previous blog posts, we discussed the career of the CIO: “The  Six Stages of the CIO“,  I had suggested a six stage process:  Learn, Grow, Leap, Mature, Become Stable, and Share!   This was great if you just wanted to end the career as a CIO.  In a follow up to this blog post, CIO: Chapter 2, I proposed roles such as  CIO/COO, CIO/CFO and even CIO/CMO.  I always admired these lucky CIOs as they broke away from the mold.  Some suggested that I had missed an important alternative – the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

The Role of the Chief Digital Officer

When organizations did not understand technology, they responded by creating the position of the Chief Information Officer.  The CIO was the bridge by helping businesses communicate their technology needs and helping IT align the resources to match those needs.  Many of the CIOs focused their attention on execution.  This focus on execution meant that CIOs were slow to respond to the Digital Enterprise.  Organizations responded by creating the CDO.   Many CIOs disagree with this approach. While most recognize the need, CIOs argue that the CDO should report to the CIO.  Sadly, the CIOs are losing. More than 80% of CDOs report to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

Can the CIO also be the CDO?

CIO Executive Council (CEC), and yours truly, had the pleasure of interviewing Ashwin Rangan.  We asked Ashwin “There’s been some talk and more than a few articles concerning the current importance of the Chief Digital Officer. However, there is some speculation – even from CDOs themselves – that the need for such a position may be temporary as digital expertise and knowledge spreads across the C-suite and a company. Do you have any thoughts on that?”

In relationship to the CIO, Ashwin opined “To me, logic would argue that if the CIO is fully glued into the business of the organization, then the CIO ought to be the chief digital officer as well, because nobody understands the digital technology aspect as well as the CIO. The question that is being asked is who best understands the impact of the application, not the application itself. So, whenever there is a business-savvy CIO at the table who can understand and articulate the impact of digital technology as opposed to the application, I don’t believe there is a need for a separate Chief Digital Officer.”


At first glance, we may argue against Ashwin’s position.  The CIO has way too much on the plate, and the CDO’s role will only complicate things.  Upon reflection, Ashwin is right on the money.  The technology wave Analytics, Automation, Cloud, IOT (Internet of Things), Mobility, and Social Computing , have enabled enterprises of all sizes to embark on a journey where technology and core business are inseparable.  The CIO has to think about it anyway.

Let us look at it from the mid-market CIO perspctive.  Mid-market enterprises need an entrepreneurial individual who understands the technology and the business.  The key differentiators between the CIO and CDO are how they approach a technology solution.  CIO approaches it from the position of alignment to business, efficiency and risk aversion.  The CDO approaches it from the position of disrupting the market with innovative solutions.  These solutions have to be aligned to business, be efficient and low risk.   The CIO thinks top down, and the CDO thinks bottom up.  Therein, you have the answer.  Therefore, you can also be the CDO if you can think like a CDO, but act like a CIO.

Written by Subbu Murthy

April 28, 2016 at 6:35 am