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CIO Or CDO: Does Your Company Need Both?

This article is part of our collection about the 2019 state of IT. Click here for more.

What is in a title? A few years ago, a Gartner study titled “The Rise and Role of the Chief Digital Officer” predicted the upswing of the chief digital officer (CDO) title in companies. There was even some talk about the CDO one day replacing the chief information officer (CIO), the argument being: Digital is a more modern term that has broader implications for the value to be derived from the head of technology for the enterprise.

While that prediction has not come to pass, some companies have adopted the CDO role, whether above, below, or on par with the CIO. Others have combined the role, while some do not have a CDO title at all.

What do these options look like in reality? Let’s take a peek inside four well-known organizations to see, starting with the majority case example.

Just A CIO
Atticus Tysen is the CIO of Intuit, where he has led a significant digital transformation. He was a product leader prior to becoming CIO, and, as such has driven a strong product orientation within IT—not to mention, of course, that Intuit is a software company and its product is mostly digital.

Tysen has enhanced the digital value of the company’s products through a number of innovations, such as enabling customers to talk to tax advisers on-demand from within TurboTax, and aggregating data to provide insights to small-business customers. He also has digitized internal operations, retiring older technology while modernizing the technology that the company runs on. For example, Tysen is using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate repetitive tasks in the finance and human resources department.

He has also instrumented Intuit’s data pipelines to accelerate the speed with which the company can resolve incidents. “When you become a cloud-based company, you have a 24/7 relationship with your customers, and you have to make sure the offerings are up and running,” Tysen noted.

Tysen personifies the trend of CIOs taking on digital leadership without the title. In fact, because he has been so effective, the company has not deemed it necessary to hire someone with the CDO title. “I don’t believe you need a title change or a new executive to foster digital transformation,” Tysen said. “There’s no reason why CIOs can’t be the digital leaders for their companies.”

Both A CIO And CDO
Tom Peck offers a different case in point. He is the chief information and digital officer of Ingram Micro, a $43 billion global technology and supply chain service provider. By having both titles, he is able to divide the two sides of responsibilities and build teams in each, while seamlessly leading both.

“The CIO role is more focused on the traditional technology, delivery, and operations role that most of us are familiar with. Meanwhile, the CDO position is focused on the customer and employee experience, e-commerce, and on helping identify new digital opportunities that we can monetize and bring to market,” he noted in a prior interview. “We brought the roles together so we could focus on driving the customer experience, monetizing new digital offerings, and delivering the technology and solutions faster.”

Gurmeet Singh, who also has the combined CIO and CDO title at 7-Eleven, agreed.   

“To bring more efficiency and effectiveness to our decisions, our prioritization, while driving the productization of IT, we decided to combine the CDO role and the CIO role. This allows us to drive vertical product slices while working on horizontal capabilities,” he said last month. “If you are doing one after the other, you are taking too much time to get the business transformed. If you do not do a vertical slice, you do not know what customer problem you are trying to solve. Combining the functions gets us there faster.”

This approach, he said, is harder, but it drives more synergies. “We drive higher team engagement,” Singh added. “You speed up your transformation journey, and you end up creating a stronger pool of talent as one team.”

CDOs Who Report To CIOs
At energy management and automation giant Schneider Electric, the CDO reports to the CIO.

“Previously, we had an IT function that mainly focused on making our operations more efficient,” said Herve Coureil, who was the company’s CIO for eight years. “We additionally had an IoT group and a customer experience group. We came to realize that with the digital transformation moving on full steam, it would make an immense difference to take a holistic approach.”

Instead of constantly connecting different teams, Coureil decided it made sense to create a digital unit. It’s not independent with its own P&L; rather, the unit is on the hook to help each of Schneider’s business units serve their customers and win in the marketplace. An advantage of this consolidation was a newfound ability to think about digital transformation more holistically, including how the company engages customers, how customers are delivered the best digital offers, and how the company provides those offers in a secure, scalable, efficient, and reliable way.

“We needed integration and end-to-end ownership,” Coureil said. “We wanted to win with our ability to take a product, deploy it seamlessly to our customers, operate it efficiently, and provide a secure and great overall experience for our customers and partners. We wanted to create a group that supported our businesses through the entire transformation. Further, we wanted this group to take a holistic view, connect the dots, and help the company scale. All of these aspects led us to create the CDO role. Additionally, this was the starting point to have enterprise IT be one of the seven practices that we have in our digital group.”

The digital unit at Schneider is now led by Elizabeth Hackenson, who reports directly to Coureil.

Titles Aside
One thing is certain: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to digital transformation or who leads that endeavor. Different approaches work for different reasons. However, experts agreed that the CIO role will outlast the CDO role, especially once digital is de rigeur inside of enterprises.

“There’s an opportunity for business-savvy CIOs to act as centralized leaders—with a view of the entire business environment—to advance their company’s efforts,” according to Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard. “As CIOs better understand the customer, harness their organization’s data, and foster stronger alignment with other leaders, they can drive an effective customer-centric strategy for the business.”

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