HomeThe Cognitive Enterprise

Is your Chief Digital Officer MIA?

Organizations would be remiss to discount too quickly the benefits of having a chief digital officer.

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The CDO’s tumultuous path to relevancy

Business magazines have recently been thick with obituaries for the role of Chief Digital Officer. Just as quickly as the CDO came onto the scene, the role’s popularity seemed to flame out. Heralded in 2012 as “the most exciting strategic role in the decade ahead,” just a few years later, headlines appeared predicting the CDO's demise. By 2016, a Forbes headline warned: “Say Goodbye to the Chief Digital Officer.” In 2018, we got “Does the Chief Digital Officer matter anymore?” and “The death of the chief digital officer.” And in 2019,“Have we reached ‘peak’ Chief Digital Officer?” and “Chief Dinosaur: The Chief Digital Officer role is already heading toward extinction."


Statistical analysis of CDO acceptance


But despite the seemingly fickle view of the value of the CDO role, it remains clear that digital transformation continues to be mission-critical undertaking for many established companies. Why then, when organizations are clearly in need of digital leadership, has the role of CDO seemed to lose favor? And moreover, has the dismissal of the CDO role been premature?

Making a successful CDO

This IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study is designed to cut through the confusion, to get to the heart of the questions surrounding the role of CDO. Specifically:

  • Could an organization grow faster by appointing a CDO? Or could that possibly generate confusion and indecision among current business leaders?
  • Should the role be tactical and aligned to a specific, clearly defined set of digital-related tasks? Or should the CDO have a broader agenda to orchestrate the organization’s overall digital transformation strategy?
  • To be most effective, to whom should CDOs report and who should report to them?
  • What type of background, skill sets, and traits should organizations prioritize when searching for a CDO?

And, perhaps most important:

  • What type of improved ROI on digital investments might a business be able to achieve if it appoints a CDO—especially one with the most desirable set of characteristics and experiences?

To answer these questions, the IBV, in collaboration with Oxford Economics, conducted the Chief Digital Officer survey with 1,500 business executives in 23 countries and across 18 industries, of which half were CDOs. We also held a series of in-depth interviews with CDOs. Based on our analysis, we created a framework to determine under what circumstances it makes sense to appoint a CDO. And, if one is appointed, what are the characteristics and responsibilities that are most likely to yield consequential business benefits from the role?

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Meet the authors

Saul Berman, PhD

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, Vice President and Chief Strategist

Carolyn Heller Baird, Global Research Leader for Customer Experience and Design, IBM Institute for Business Value

Kevin Eagan

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, Executive leader for growth, innovation and customer experience excellence

Anthony Marshall, Senior Research Director, IBM Institute for Business Value

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