chief digital officer

Endangered List:  Chief Digital Officer


Author: Maggie Walsh

When it comes to C-Suite positions, executives can generally count on the staying power of their position. Most companies will always need a CEO, a CFO, and a CMO. But what about the relatively new Chief Digital Officer (CDO)? Can they count on a tenured spot within the company? The strategy for most CDO positions is a relatively short-term one. Companies expect a CDO to come on board, right the digital ship, and then move those maintenance and update responsibilities to parallel executives, like marketing, technology or information.

A November 2017 study predicted that the CDO will be phased out of most companies by 2025 ( That feels counter-intuitive, given how digital-driven life has become in 2018. The reason for the disappearing CDO is twofold. One, a lot of the responsibilities that belong to the CDO are duplicates. Two, the main goal for the CDO is to take a company who is behind in their digital strategy and bring them up to speed. Luxury fashion, for example, is an industry that is notoriously behind the technological times. Luxury has felt somewhat exempt from the digital revolution for all these years. However, they are finally realizing they can no longer hold out, and are modernizing their strategies with the help of CDOs.

In a study conducted by PwC, only 19% of organizations reported having a CDO in 2016, and 60% of those CDOs were appointed between 2015 and 2016 ( What seems like such a vital piece of a company’s overall health appears to be in the hands of, essentially, temporary employees. The CDO comes in when the digital situation is dire, and they improve the internal and external digital user experience, and move on - acting as digital “fixers”. The CDO of Shiseido succinctly described the purpose of the CDO to, saying, “CDOs are temporary. We are here to inject a new way of working, one that is about ongoing experimentation, trial and error, fail forward, push forward . . . We can be successful in this job if we are out as fast as possible.”

CDOs face the exciting challenge of reviving a company’s digital scope, while maintaining its original DNA. While this can be difficult, it is a high risk/high reward situation - especially in retail, where revamped web sites historically produce a stronger revenue stream, an easy measure of success. Getting there can be difficult, as CDOs often aren’t given their own team, but rely on various marketing or tech employees for strategy execution.

Why do CDOs only exist in a short burst? Why don’t companies want to continue to evolve their digital footprint and experience even after tech mistakes have been corrected? Isn’t there room for a CDO as the importance of user experience, systems, and a company’s digital face continues to grow with the technology available? In order to continue to NOT have a digital problem, it feels essential for companies to keep a CDO who will continue to grow the digital side of the business. I guess we’ll have to wait until 2025 to get the answer to that question.



The Nebulous Role of the Chief Digital Officer

Author: Cammy Pedroja, Ph.D.

Your business is fashion and retail. So, if you already have a chief technology officer, a chief information officer, and a chief marketing officer, you have no need for a chief digital officer, right? Wrong. Well, probably wrong. Continuing in our writing series of topics within the tech, digital, and online retail spheres, we at Find the Fit want to address any questions you may have about the role of a CDO in fashion and retail, and whether or not your company or brand really needs one to succeed.

The continuously shifting borders defining what should be inside a CDO’s purview may have kept many leaders in the fashion industry from investing the time, money, and talent required to define this position and to recruit enough top talent to fill it. But fashion brands and retailers, especially in high-end and luxury, have been notoriously slow to adapt to the complexities of the new consumer-centric market. That’s where the need for an executive with true digital vision comes in.

Near the beginning of the title’s conception several years ago, many CDOs had marketing backgrounds. But now, according to CIO Magazine, more and more executives coming to fill this title are armed with plenty of hard tech experience. So, what’s the most effective type of talent for the role of CDO? It’s our guess that the sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle.

In 2018, there’s no such thing as a successful fashion business whose inner workings don’t look a lot like a tech business. And no matter how incredible your product is, if you’re not working to stay out in front of consumer-centric selling and manufacturing innovations, you won’t be thought of as a top-notch business, and won’t survive the final years of the digital revolution of industry.

What many of the best CDO’s have in common is a mixture of digital/technical know-how and skill, combined with a talent for customer strategy and service, as well as the ability to tie all of these aspects of modern business strategy together into a cohesive vision that works in real life. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the people skills necessary to weave all these disparate threads of modern business together. As CIO Magazine puts it, “The best chief digital officers are able to envision a company’s digital future and also bring other executives and users on board with that vision.”

Are you a CEO considering how you’ll adapt to the marketplace of the future? Or an underling looking for a good idea to run up the chain to the boss? Creating a role for a CDO could be a winning strategy. Just make sure you have clear goals about what that role will contribute before you take the plunge.