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Who is entitled to be called ‘head of digital’?

Who is entitled to be called ‘head of digital’?

What should ‘digital’ include and who should own it? Dr Marianne Broadbent attempts to answer this question

Over recent months, I’ve worked with several organisations on roles encompassing either head of digital or chief digital officer (CDO), or where the relationship between the CIO and head of digital is critical. What is happening here?

We are in the midst of working through how to deal with environments that continue to change and develop, and there is no right or wrong nomenclature. The ideal scenario, however, is one where there is clarity around what the business is trying to achieve and why, who’s accountable for different parts of it, and that it makes sense internally and externally.

The challenge CIOs have in this new digital world is the assumption that they only deal with internal technology support. This is rarely accurate, but the perspective persists. For many years, effective CIOs have been deeply engaged at the ‘pointy end’, working directly with customers and consumers alongside line-of-business.

But the question of ‘ownership’ keeps coming up: What should ‘digital’ include and who should own it? One way to work it out is to break digital into its components and work through what it means in your organisation.

The term ‘SMAC’ (social media, mobile devices, analytics and cloud computing) has come into use to describe the key elements of what constitutes ‘digital’. To these, Matt Baxter-Reynolds (author of Death of the PC), has added IT consumerisation and big data.

Here are pragmatic descriptions that work with our executive clients when clarifying these issues.

Social media is a two-way channel for interacting with customers, and for customers to interact with each other. Mobile devices provide ways for customers to interact, and access your products and services.

Analytics, meanwhile, refers to how you might glean information from the data you collect. IT consumerisation reflects the fact that just about everyone can now access what you do through multiple devices. The ‘cloud’ usually refers to how you might buy the capability you need to provide access to customers and clients, and to process what they provide to you.

From an organisational perspective, one scenario might be to have a head of digital channels accountable for shaping and delivering customer business via those channels. You might have the marketing team doing analytics to assess impact, as well as inform strategy.

The CIO is then accountable for ensuring enabling technologies, systems, processes and information are readily available for these purposes – and continues to alert other executives to new possibilities. All three work closely together to ensure business and customer needs are anticipated and well met.

Of course, organisational accountabilities are rarely as ‘clean’ as this. The CIO’s role may have widened to include accountability for direct channels. Or the perception might be the CIO did not move quickly enough to clarify their value in some digital areas.

Or the nature of the CIO’s contribution in alerting executive colleagues to the opportunities and threats in SMAC has gone unrecognised. None of this is necessarily fair but it’s common.

What is clear is that CEOs and executives have higher expectations from their business and technology executives than ever before, and the educative role of the ‘demand side’ of the CIO has never been greater. It’s what makes the role stimulating, demanding and is what necessitates every CIO becoming a leader.

Dr Marianne Broadbent is a managing Partner with leadership consultancy, NGS Global (formerly EWK International) info.australia@ngs-global.com.

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Tags chief digital officerdigitalCDODr Marianne BroadbentIT consumerisation

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