Chief Digital Officer: NZ Buyer Beware!


Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is no longer a new role but it seems that New Zealand has now embraced the position and has begun to recruit with vigour. In New Zealand I have advised on roles for Chief Digital Officers and Chief Data Officers, CIOs and CEOs with a Digital bias and experience.

The CDO role has now become a role that is leading to a war on talent which has left companies scratching around for people who can barely spell digital let alone understand digital. It’s like every new sweet in the shop. We don’t know what they taste like, but as more and more people try them we all want to buy them. For some it’s a great experience for others it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

“The reluctance of some CIOs and even some CMOs to allow customer data to drive business decisions is a key driver behind the rise of the chief digital officer", says Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research.

To get the best CDO do you have to pay the best? My understanding is that a market salary is expected by the CDO’s but they need to know that the company they are going to work for has the desire to change and make things happen. They need to demonstrate that they have a roadmap in place that includes digital governance and strategy. The company must be willing to transform and have the executive on board. Better still, Hearts and Minds need to be in check. Does the company understand the Digital trends that disrupt their business and industry? The CDO wants to be able to make a real difference and know that through their work they have achieved a competitive advantage for their company. To pay the best salary is not enough as I know many frustrated technicians in NZ who earn $300,000 to $500,000 who are looking for another opportunity and would be happy for a bigger challenge and less remuneration.

Having spoken to over 250 people in the C-Suite working with Technology since October 2016 from NZ/Australia/USA/Canada/Europe/UK/ South Africa and Asia, the meaning of Digital became very confusing as to what it meant for one person was completely different for another.

In order for a company to go digital, the company must first understand what it means. Having read numerous reports on being a CDO and what that means, here is what Wikipedia states:

"A Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is an individual who helps a company, a government organisation or a city drive growth by converting traditional "analog" businesses to digital ones, and oversees operations in the rapidly changing digital sectors like mobile applications, social media and related applications, virtual goods, as well as "wild" web-based information management and marketing."

Karel Dörner and David Edelman July 2015 stated on the McKinsey & Company High Tech web site, “For some executives, it’s about technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. But such diverse perspectives often trip up leadership teams because they reflect a lack of alignment and common vision about where the business needs to go. This often results in piecemeal initiatives or misguided efforts that lead to missed opportunities, sluggish performance, or false starts.”

So where do the CDOs come from? Are they CIOs who see the new role as more interesting or is it a way to get more remuneration?

Europe has recruited the most CDO’s to date and they are often from Chief Marketing Officer or Sales Backgrounds. The same is happening back home in New Zealand. From a LinkedIn search of CDO’s in NZ, I found that CDO’s came from Media / Sales / Technology in that order.

So do you need a CDO? Well that’s an interesting one. It seems that large companies and companies in certain sectors are the first past the post to hire a CDO. However here is a thought, “if this is about a company’s transformation, what happens when the company has gone through that transformation and is seeing growth do they still need a Chief Digital Officer or do they now need a Chief Data Officer. Or does a company need to have both. Digital looking outwards and a Data looking inwards. That’s a conversation for another day. Would an Interim Executive be more palatable?

Chief Digital Officer. NZ Buyer be aware! So what is the alternative? There are lots of competitors in your industry who would be more than happy to explain what Digital means to them and how they achieved both success and what to watch out for in terms of road blocks.If you are thinking about going Digital or need a Senior Digital Executive let me know before you engage someone and I will be more than happy to arrange a meeting with people who have had these experiences. It’s better your mate tells you those sweets taste sour and lets you try one of theirs – that way, you’re not left with a bad taste in the mouth.


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