C-suite changes

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

Enterprises are tapping CDOs to monetize digital assets, but how will these new execs interact with IT? And will the hiring trend hold?

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In making that journey, Pierce's IT background, as well as stints elsewhere as a CEO and COO, has come in handy, he says.

"You can't be a strategy guy unless you understand the technology that you have to implement to fulfill that strategy," says Pierce. "And you can't do business in the C-level suite now unless you've got that digital knowledge to talk business with a customer. Having someone in the room that has that experience can help. I call it being 'the nerd at the table.'"

Will the CDO title endure?

There's little doubt the nascent Chief Digital Officer role is in flux. This month, Sreenivasan is scheduled to leave Columbia to become the first-ever CDO at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he will report to the associate director for collections and administration. In his new job, Sreenivasan will explore new digital opportunities for the Met and lead its Digital Media Department, which is responsible for managing and producing digital content.

Smith too recently left Forbes, but not for another CDO title: He's now vice president of revenue platforms and operations at Hearst Magazines Digital Media, where he reports to the company's president and is responsible for aligning technology, content creation and advertising.

Which leads to the question: will the CDO craze last, or is it simply an interim title useful in the short term for corporations undergoing digital transformation?

Sreenivasan says CDOs are new and needed today (and notes that Columbia plans to hire a replacement CDO to fill his position), but acknowledges that could certainly change in the future. "I imagine there was once a chief telephone officer at Columbia long ago, but that wasn't needed after people figured out how to use the phone. This job could go that way, that someday they won't need somebody with this title."

McDonald, the Gartner analyst, agrees. "It's perfectly natural to create a C-level role when the technology is new, but as the organization builds an understanding of that technology, it works its way back into core operations. You can be a digital company without having a CDO."

Nigel Fenwick, an analyst with Forrester Research, said he certainly sees the role of a digital content leader, but not necessarily the CDO title, sticking around for enterprises.

"There's a need to put your arms around your digital business, absolutely," says Fenwick. "I completely believe that that is going to be a strategy for businesses going forward. This is partly why the executive level sometimes has to shake things up a bit to get things where they need to get to. [The CDO title] is one way of doing it."

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. Follow him on Twitter, where his handle is @TechManTalking, or email him at toddrweiss@gmail.com.

This article, Chief Digital Officer: Hot new tech title or flash in the pan?, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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