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The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer

According to Gartner, by 2015 25% of organisations will have a Chief Digital Officer sat on the board of directors.  Then, by 2020, 90% of technology spending will be driven by departments outside of IT.  Although analysts have been known to be wrong on the odd occasion, Gartner does have an outstanding track record and there’s no denying the impact of digital on organisations, employees, customers, partners, suppliers and stakeholders.  In fact, pretty much every aspect of doing business.

The convergence has been driven by a number of factors, all coming together at the same time: mass adoption of social media, the consumerisation of technology including the growth of ‘mobile-everything’ and the opportunities opened up by the cloud.  All of these factors are creating new business opportunities and as a result, business departments and functions are becoming digitised.  Marketing budgets are moving from analogue to digital, research projects are now mostly digital and services are being provided digitally. Digital is fast becoming a new revenue stream for all and sundry.

As a result, the lines are becoming blurred between what was traditionally allocated to the IT budget and the marketing budget.  Two very different departments with very different objectives, outlooks and characteristics, are being forced to work together – unsuccessfully in many cases – and there is an emerging power struggle at board level.  The trouble is, the CIO and the CMO both speak in entirely different native tongues.  Why not?  Up until now they have had no need to become bi-lingual.

So, the key questions for me are who will ultimately win the battle and end up with budgetary control?  Will the emergence of a hybrid Chief Digital Officer (CDO) replace the traditional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) roles?  Will we see a hybrid department emerge and what will be the future of the IT and marketing departments?  What will the shift in budgets mean for jobs, skills and training, and what should marketers be doing now in order to prepare themselves and keep their career options open?

I don’t know the answers to many of these questions just now, however, I’m following them closely and with much interest.  Perhaps the marketing department is best placed to make sense of the convergence of social, mobile and cloud?  Let’s face it, the IT crowd hasn’t done a great job of communicating the benefits of digital and the cloud so far.

What I do suspect is that the rise of the CDO will be a gradual one that creeps up on us as organisations continue to digitise large areas of business, such as the research and development budget.  But at some point, someone will have to assume responsibility for developing a digital business strategy, and as Gartner points out, that’s a long way from running back office IT.  It is a scenario where IT does not define the rules, but becomes merely an enabler.  Thus, leaving the issue of power, career paths and development opportunities wide open for the taking.

If I were a marketer, the question I’d be asking myself just now is “Outside of the traditional marketing role, what technology and IT issues do I need to get to grips with, to take advantage of this career opportunity?” If cloud computing, big data and social enterprise analytics are all terms that sound like white noise to you, it might be worth considering a cosy lunch with one of the IT crowd and a pen and paper.  Whatever happens, I know this much: you can’t be in marketing if you don’t understand digital. And you can’t understand digital if you don’t understand technology.

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