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.