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Chief Digital Officer: Hot new tech title or flash in the pan?

By Todd R. Weiss
July 29, 2013 06:00 AM ET

"A lot of company leaders really don't understand digital very well," observes Calkins Media CDO Guy Tasaka, who has more than two decades of experience in advertising, strategy and planning, circulation and marketing for media and startup companies. Tasaka, who reports to his company's CEO, says chief digital officers "should have the future vision in mind and not be constrained by the technical or architectural limitations of the current company."

He elaborates, "CIOs and CTOs don't look at the core business. They look at the technology for technology's sake." As the CDO, Tasaka says, "My responsibility is public-facing technology, the mobiles, the online and everything that we are doing going forward. I won't do anything unless there is a revenue strategy and a sustainable revenue model. My job is to separate what will help Calkins strategically from what is just a shiny object that's cool."

Forbes Media: Building audience, increasing revenue

Michael Smith joined the Forbes Media Group 13 years ago and became its first CDO in 2010 when a new CEO came in and wanted to drive the importance of digital content. Smith, whose background was as a CTO, took on the task of looking at technologies inside the company and how they could be used to better promote its digital content, specifically to grow online readership at

"As the CDO, I don't make technology decisions -- those are made throughout the organization," says Smith, who reports to the CEO and president of Forbes Media. "It's the CDO's job to support the adoption of these selections. The focus I have now is on revenue growth. It's far more of a business role."

By tracking new content management applications, online publishing systems and other digital innovations that can be used to create and deliver Forbes' digital content, Smith has been able to help grow the company's online audiences threefold since 2010, to more than 45 million unique users a month. "That's a dramatic increase in users," he says. "This stuff helps the company."

Digital assets defined

All companies have digital data, but digital assets -- content that can be shared with the public or a select subset for profit, improved customer relationships or heightened brand awareness -- are a different beast, one that varies widely by business sector.

For an events firm like George Little, digital assets comprise materials such as audio and video from conferences, as well as other stored content from events; this is then repurposed and sold by the company, says CDO Jason Brown.

For a print, online and broadcast media company like Calkins Media, digital revenue opportunities come from advertising to mobile users, targeting ads to online visitors and finding new opportunities that no one has considered before, according to CDO Guy Tasaka.

For a healthcare provider, digital content could be general medical information about procedures and therapies for patients and prospective patients, ideally showcasing the expertise of the provider's in-house medical staff. And for a manufacturer, digital assets could encompass product catalogs, advertising, white papers and video and audio content aimed at enhancing customer satisfaction with current purchases and spurring new business as well.

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