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Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

CDOs in NYC: 10 Takeaways from Today's Change Agents

Who doesn't love New York in spring? I may be a blatantly biased New Yorker, but let me assure you that the season of new beginnings in New York made for the perfect backdrop for the April 27 CDO Summit.

What I enjoyed most about this intense day-long session of learning and strategy sharing with Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) and IT leaders was it felt just like a day in the city.

Spend a day out in New York City and your senses are bombarded with information--sounds, sights and smells. Spend a day with clever, pioneering digital leaders and you are overwhelmed with new knowledge and perspectives.

Reflecting on the lessons I learned as the opening keynote of the 2016 CDO Summit, I realize there is so much insight all of us (CDO or not) can gain from the people leading today's data, mobile, cloud and social media strategies. Here are 10 major CDO Summit takeaways I think all business and IT leaders should keep in mind as they focus on embracing digital.

10 Takeaways from Digital Leaders

#1 SPEED: You Can't Slow Down

Acceleration seems to be the constant in IT, and digital platforms and programs (data analytics, social, mobile and cloud) are changing businesses' strategies and operations faster than anything we have seen before. As Cisco's SVP and Chief Digital Officer Kevin F. Bandy explained, "The speed of a network able to handle data analysis, like a self-driving car, must be faster than human thought." Those in CDO roles have the challenge of keeping businesses adapting at the quick pace of change and innovation while ensuring the business and infrastructure can keep up.

#2 DATA: Success Starts and Ends with Data

Data is what connects us today. From businesses and customers to students and teachers to family and friends, data offers us new, better, faster ways to engage. CDOs today are leading data analytics and management efforts worldwide and their success in this area will have lasting and material impact on bottom-line business success and performance. Every presentation, mine included, emphasized how effective today's businesses need to become at managing and leveraging data for business intelligence and innovation.

#3 FEAR: Why They Resist

CDOs are confronting a lot of fear today as they work to drive new initiatives around mobile, social, data and cloud technology. With the global economy in flux and the political climate unsure, businesses are becoming more risk and change averse. When I asked the CDO Summit audience what their organization's "greatest barrier to digital success" is today, fear was a common response.

fear word art.pngIn order to mute fears and win support, CDOs will need to help businesses and leaders understand the bottom-line value of their digital initiatives. Rational business arguments and strong results will be key to helping businesses overcome fear and embrace digital.

#4 TRANSPARENCY: Share More, Win More Fans

The more the broader business can see the results and opportunities of digital initiatives, the more support CDOs gain. Several attendees and speakers at the CDO Summit shared how greater transparency on their side (showing results, tying initiatives to financial gains, etc.) has led to greater support across the business on digital initiatives.

#5 REVENUE: Responsibility to the Bottom Line

While IT has long been asked to watch the bottom line by managing spending and creating more efficiency, CDOs are being asked something new. The role of the CDO is one of revenue driver. The business is looking for digital transformation that changes more than operations. Today's CDOs are being asked to deliver innovations that result in new and/or greater revenue streams. For CDOs, it means looking at every project and opportunity with the bottom line in mind and asking, "How will this impact our growth and profitability?"

CDO strategic focus.png Source: Preliminary findings from Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey

#6 MARKETING: Market Savvy Leaders

Of the CDOs and IT leaders in the audience, 54% came from Marketing or Sales before taking on the CDO role, meanwhile 32% came from IT. While the Summit audience was only a small sample of global CDOs, the results do show how different the CDO role is from the CIO role, which continues to be a tech-driven leadership position. CDOs are often coming from other areas of the business (sales, marketing and operations) because of the market and customer impact digital initiatives often have. It's a lesson to IT leaders looking to advance to the CDO role to take opportunities to engage with other business units. Partner with marketing to increase customer intelligence or work with sales and operations on social engagement.

Those professionals in sales and marketing who aspire to the CDO role need to do the same with technology. Gain experience partnering with IT and look for opportunities to work on social, digital, cloud and mobile projects to expand your digital work portfolio.

#7 STRATEGY: Look Beyond Tools

For digital to succeed, CDOs have to be strategic thinkers, planners and leaders. All of the emerging areas of competition and engagement (the cloud, social platforms, data analytics and mobile) have ways that they intersect and ways that they don't. To succeed in digital is to drive technology success across all of them and to coordinate tools and people in new, challenging ways. While CDOs need to understand and know the technology, they also need be strategic planners--building a comprehensive strategy for the business' digital transformation.

#8 INVENT: Make Your Own Path

The CDO role is a very new one, and that means there is room to make your own way. 43% of the CDO Summit audience worked for organizations that only had the CDO role in place for two years or less and another 33% had no CDO role at their business yet. Even though we know the first CDO was placed in 2003, the actual role has only established roots in the last two years.

CDO survey.pngOne of the best lines of the event was from CDO Larry Kramer, Chairman of the Board of Directors at TheStreet Inc. and Member of Board of Gannett Corp, who said, "CDOs are like CFOs because no one has the expertise to argue with you." It may be a challenging time, but it is also a time when the lines are not yet drawn. As a CDO, you have more ability to affect and suggest change. Embrace the opportunity to set your own path and shape your own role.

#9 CHANGE AGENT: Embrace It

CDOs, according to the audience, the Harvey Nash CIO Survey data and lessons shared from Gartner are today's agents of change. Successful CDOs will welcome this role, helping the business tackle disruption and enthusiastically embrace new approaches and technologies.

#10 EMPATHHIZE: See the Personal Side

As change agents and business leaders, CDOs also have to have empathy for what businesses and people are going through. Digital transformation is disruptive. That's why "disruption" is the word we hear everywhere. CDO Susan Poulton of The Franklin Institute said it best at the CDO Summit when she explained that "learning to empathize with how personal digital transformation can be is important to its success." To ensure digital efforts succeed, CDOs need to understand how much change it puts upon the business and its employees and help them manage the challenge.

Clearly we are in for an exciting ride as we embrace digital and all of the opportunities the future holds. There is no one path to digital success; which is intriguing, exhilarating and motivating as those of us with a passion for digital continue to connect it to the business and bring its transformation to life.

If you would like to take a closer look at the evolution of the CDO role, be sure to check out the results of the 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey by requesting a copy here.