Money & Business

Survey: Number of Chief Digital Officers Is On the Rise

By / May 15, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

The C-Suite is becoming more digitized, according to data recently released by the CDO Club. At the CDO Summit last week, the group’s founder talked about the role of the chief digital officer and introduced another CDO—chief data officer.

In 2005, MTV noticed a major disruption in the music and entertainment industry with the rise of Napster. As a result, it hired Jason Hirschhorn as chief digital officer (CDO) and asked him to develop a strategy to keep the network relevant in an increasingly mobile age.

MTV’s relevance in today’s pop culture might be up for debate, but at the very least it appears to have started a real trend.

Every year since Hirschhorn’s hiring, the number of CDOs has at least doubled, according to data released by the CDO Club. In 2013, there were 488 CDOs employed worldwide, up from 225 in 2012. The group’s founder and curator David Mathison predicted that the trend will continue and predicted there will be 1,000 CDOs by the end of 2014. However, he called the prediction conservative, adding that the number could increase further if CIOs begin to rebrand themselves “to stay relevant in this digital age.”

In his keynote address at last month’s CDO Summit (see the YouTube video below), Mathison presented the findings of the 2014 CDO Talent Map, which shows the distribution of the CDO population throughout the world and breaks it down by business sector—nonprofits employed 10 percent of the 488 known CDOs.

But what makes a CDO different from a CIO?

Mathison explained that while CDOs focus on everything from mobile offerings to social media and new technology, it’s their strategic focus that has propelled them forward. “[CDOs] can execute,” he said. “They are usually reporting to the highest levels of the organization; they have to get buy-in from all of the different silos across the entire company; they’re relationship builders, really strong at networking; and they can manage.”

Organizations are also starting to realize the importance of big data, Mathison said, which has led to the rise of another kind of CDO—chief data officer.

“They understand that in order to do business today, especially online, you have to understand the data about your customers,” he said. “The better that you can analyze it and act on it to get the right information to the right person at the right time, your business is going to excel in this age.”

While both roles are gaining clout in the C-Suite, the challenge organizations face right now is finding individuals who have the right skill set—one that includes a mix of mathematics, behavioral psychology, and legal and regulatory knowledge.

“Very few people who have those skills, because the skills are really wide,” he said. “You not only need to understand how to get what data you need, what data you have, how to integrate that all into the system, but then you also need to know permission security, governance, litigation, all of these other regulatory issues depending on what sector you’re in. Those people aren’t easy to find.”

For those who do fit the mold, their careers have taken off. Seven CDOs became CEO in 2013, and four more were welcomed onto an organization’s board of directors.

“I’m hoping that as these CDOs jump in and help these organizations become digital, we’re going to see more and more CDOs become CEOs,” Mathison said. “It’s only natural that if they do the job that they’re supposed to do, which is help bring that company into the digital age, they’re probably next in line to become CEO of the organization, and that to me is the goal that we’re all working toward.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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