Digital Transformation Insights

Thu, 16 Jul 2015

How do you see the C-suite evolving in the digital age?



Digital is changing everything. It’s changing how we work and how we play as individuals. It’s changing how businesses and customers sense each other and how they transact. And most certainly, it’s changing how businesses organize themselves to survive and thrive in the digital age.

Over the last several decades, the tight linkage between successful business execution and information technology got increasingly more established and more understood. By late 80s, “Data processing” managers grew to be Chief Information Officers and young aspirants could get entire technical and business degrees from reputed universities that dedicated whole departments to teaching and training them on information technology. Likewise, with the growth in the importance of communicating the value of a brand and its products, marketing became a major field of study and specialization and Chief Marketing Officers entered the executive suite.

How will the digital age change those fields? How will the structure of the well-established information technology and marketing departments at big businesses change or be influenced by the business’s effort towards digital transformation?

As part of the work I do partnering with business leaders to move forward their digital execution, I have had the opportunity to observe this organizational dynamic ringside. Putting aside names and titles, I see three critical functions somebody has to own, some team has to perform.

  1. Provide robust, secure, scalable backend infrastructure that adapts to the needs of the fast-changing digital user experience needs.
  2. Innovate and bring to market digital products and digital business models.
  3. Define and execute against what branding, customer engagement and demand generation mean to your business in the digital age.

Generally today, the first responsibility is taken by CIO. Digital age has ushered in numerous adventures beyond core business apps to that role such as infrastructure to keep in vs. put in the cloud and bridging the two, on-prem software vs. SaaS, mobile platform both for employees and for the business’s digital presences. Quite contrary to the opinion of some that the CIO role needs some kind of artificial souping up, I see that the CIO role has become more important and more critical to business success than it has ever been.

Typically, the second responsibility rests today with the relatively new but rapidly growing role of Chief Digital Officer and the third with Chief Marketing Officer. However, I believe the lines of separation are not that clean nor need to be. The organization structure should be a consequence of the leader’s capabilities and passion rather than one that is preconceived.

Several corporations entrust the digital product innovation responsibility to the CIO including Capital One as referenced in the last Omnichannel NOW issue. In an interesting debate at this year’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, two executives from CVS and Schindler discuss why their companies chose to keep together or separate the IT and Digital roles into one or two executives.

To further underscore my observation that the executive’s capabilities drive organization, note that there are many critical functions that can fall within the ambit of any of the above three segments. Is one of them any more suited than the others to be the owner of social data and analytics? How about omnichannel experience and execution? Digital assets?

I’d like to hear what you think. Share with the Omnichannel NOW community how you think these roles are evolving. The Omnichannel NOW newsletter is running a contest that will reward the best response with a dining experience to remember!