Evolution of the IT department: is CDO the new CIO?

By Robert Half on 28th May 2018

Digital disruption is forcing businesses to continually adapt. This has sparked debate among C-suite executives about the need for a new role within the IT management team—the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

Two years ago, some suspected that the role of CDO was a dead-end fad which overlapped too many other roles in the management team. In the last three years, the number of CDO’s working within digital leaderships teams has increased from 6% to 19%, according to PwC. In the EMEA global region, 38% of companies have them. Fad or not, the role has been benchmarked as one of the C-suite roles of the future.

So, what is a CDO and how does it differ from a traditional Chief Information Officer (CIO)? Could both be leveraged in tandem to drive company success and, if so, how should you assess whether you need one?

Chief Digital Officer vs Chief Information Officer

It’s common knowledge that most UK businesses consider digital transformation a priority for future business strategy. In our research with 200 CFOs and 100 CIOs/IT and tech executives, it was discovered that medium-sized businesses believe digitisation to be their ticket to competitive advantage against young, agile start-ups and large, resource-rich corporations. The sticking point occurs in striking a healthy balance between innovation and business as usual. This is where the CDO versus CIO debate comes into play.

It has been argued that CIO’s, though effective, direct more focus towards operational and IT-based initiatives within businesses. Although strong leadership is needed in this integral area, it leaves little time to drive other technical or innovative projects forward. 

Enter the role of CDO. The chief digital officer job description would centre around the rapid deployment of transformation projects so that businesses can meet the pace of change within the global marketplace. CDOs fill the skill set gaps left by the CIO, with a focus on pushing innovation forwards by identifying opportunities created by the shifting digital landscape. 

Executives understand that digital transformation requires their roles to evolve, according to a digital transformation report by Robert Half. With this in mind, could CIO’s simply broaden their focus back out to encompass initiatives which drive digital change?

Are businesses equipped to deal with C-suite transformation?

Hiring new staff to meet digital transformation demands hasn’t been easy for many UK businesses. The war for talent rages on, pushing employers to speed up hiring times and to create more attractive remuneration packages in the hope of securing the few highly skilled individuals still available in the hiring market.

A recent report by Robert Half showed that CIOs have seen a 79% increase in business projects involving the IT department in the last 5 years. This is predicted to increase, leaving an even larger gap for a managerial role dedicated solely towards digital development.

Given the nature of the current hiring market, many UK businesses may not have the luxury of creating and filling a new executive role to meet digital transformation needs. To get around the global talent shortage and keep digitalisation on-track, experts advise creating an executive talent pipeline or hiring interim or contract professionals to fill gaps within the team until a suitable full-time CDO can be found. A professional recruitment company would be well-placed to quickly fill new executive tech roles, or to assess your hiring plan and business strategy to find the most appropriate option for you. 

Are you planning to add a CDO to your team? Get in touch our expert team to discuss your options or submit a vacancy today.

Robert Half Executive Search specialises in the search for and placement of executive leadership talent across a broad spectrum of function areas and industry sectors. Contact the Executive Search team today to learn more.

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