The CDO: It's a role, not a title

The CDO: It's a role, not a title

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CIO Big Data and the Management Revolution

Immediacy is becoming an expectation in the world of digital business, especially as user interaction data becomes just as important as transactional data. One customer even tells me that user data more than 15 minutes old borders on irrelevant.

With the shift to mobile, the rise of cloud computing, and the explosion of data, a new point of control has formed at the edge of the enterprise. Leading businesses strive for tight connections and speedy interaction here, because it’s where customers, employees and partners are.

Armed with their mobile devices, or plugged in to the internet of everything, they expect to have relevant information or services at their fingertips, without delay.

Delivering this requires understanding the user’s context, delivered from apps to the enterprise. But how is this digital customer experience—and the strategy that drives it—built, spread throughout an organization, and optimized? This requires a digital leader.

This person is sometimes called a chief digital officer.

But it’s important to view the CDO as a role, not a title. This role is being filled with executives with a wide variety of titles, in fact. This person could be a chief information officer with a very strong business orientation, or a chief marketing officer or GM of e-commerce with strong technical expertise.

The CDO–or whoever is playing that part in an organization–is where an enterprise turns for digital leadership across lines of business, and to create a consistent customer experience.

Part of the challenge in shaping this role—or even defining it—comes from the need to break from the past, where the CMO was typically the customer champion, and the CIO was the technology and infrastructure leader, who wasn’t at all concerned with user engagement.

The new digital leader has his or her feet squarely in both camps—and addresses the challenge of providing customized experiences as well as the best technologies and platforms to enable the data-driven, digital business to deliver those experiences.

Now that business is conducted at the edge of the enterprise, several new questions arise for a digital leader, including:

Which channels do our customers prefer?
How do we create a seamless, personalized experience across those channels?
How do we gather edge-of-the-enterprise data from these channels, weave it into information from systems of record, boost the signal-to-noise ratio, and glean real business insights?

To be well-equipped to answer these questions, the person in this role is fluent in many languages across business and technology—IT, marketing, and strategy—in order to create the organizational alignment necessary to deliver digital experiences to customers, partners, and employees.

This person also needs to be a well-respected leader: someone who can smooth over all the complexity and communicate a simple vision of why an enterprise must become a digital business.

Finally, customer and market expectations can change in the blink of an eye, so a company’s digital leader should be able to adapt quickly, and have the freedom to move the goal posts. He or she should set goals with conviction, but have the ability to change them six months later, because this journey might go in a different direction than originally thought.

Being a risk-taker and a geek and living on the bleeding edge might seem important, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. What’s most important is that you can lead this move to create a digital business across all functions. You tell the business leaders what the requirements are, you tell the technologists that your organization needs to experiment—none of this “we’ll build it in nine months.”

It requires a leader who understands how important a digital strategy is to the enterprise, and how agility, organizational alignment, and a deep understanding of users and interactions are key to success in the digital economy.

Chet Kapoor is CEO at Apigee, which provides a digital business platform that helps companies become leaders in the mobile-first digital world, using apps, data and APIs.

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