Faced with the growing importance of the omnichannel customer experience and the expertise required to understand the vision and technology behind data-driven marketing —digital marketing attribution, predictive modeling, dynamic digital profiles, mobile and so on—companies are testing a new position in the C-suite, the chief digital officer (CDO). But, what role does a CDO play, and why is this position (or something like it) so critical for your organization?
CDOs are digital-savvy, business-driven leaders who have what it takes to transform traditional businesses into data-driven companies. They combine marketing and management experience with technical know-how and strategic vision to align and improve business operations across the enterprise. I believe this type of broader, enterprise-wide data management scope has become the “mandate of our era.” And given that big data is here to stay – and getting bigger – your company needs a C-level position that specifically provides:
Technical expertise. As I discussed a few weeks ago, the big data hairball embodies both the promise and the threat behind big data and digital channels. A CDO can accelerate your efforts to unlock the data insights that increase sales and drive revenue growth.
Cross-functional finesse. Despite the CDO’s technical expertise, the primary responsibility of this role is not to make tech decisions. Instead, the CDO is charged with making decisions about how data and customers relate. Remember: Data analytics and the customer experience are not mutually exclusive. However, engraining this fact in your organization will no doubt call for a shift in cultural mindset about data — what it is at your company, what it means to your business, and what you want it to do for you and for your customers’ experience of your brand.
Every department generates data and virtually every customer engagement leaves a digital trail of structured or unstructured information. Creating the systems and processes to capture, organize and leverage the data you’ve already got (and the additional data you know is coming) is the first step to aligning data use with your company’s business strategies. How else can you respond to the changing marketplace?
Silo-busting prowess. The “big data hairball” permeates all departments and transcends individual roles. The CDO must break down barriers to make sure “all hands are on deck” and no one is shying away from rising to the challenge of becoming a data-driven company. One word of caution: I can see how, in a worst-case scenario, a CDO could end up creating a new data silo. Don’t let that happen in your company! Keep the lines of communication and collaboration open and responsive.
Global perspective. The CDO must see how data – from all departments and regions — impacts the entire enterprise and must work to align different departments with a comprehensive data strategy. Another word of caution here: Think carefully about the optimal reporting structure for your firm. In some companies, the CDO reports directly to the CEO to drive enterprise-wide change. In others, the position reports to the CMO, yet carries the broad enterprise mission. In order to be successful, CDO and CMO have to function as collaborative partners.
I’m well aware that a CDO will not be the best fit for every company, and I’ve seen several other successful organizational models begin to emerge. For instance, some companies are unifying the CIO and CMO roles. Others are opting for Chief Marketing Technologist, a Chief Customer Experience Officer, a Chief Customer Officer or perhaps some other designation entirely. When it comes right down to it, it’s not the title that makes the difference; it’s the vision and the responsibility.
No matter what you call it, I urge you to think about it. In today’s world of rapid digital change, your company needs to continually adopt/adjust behaviors so you can use data analytics to gain insights, improve sales and marketing performance and create sustainable competitive advantage. Make sure you put the right person in the right role to help you start driving that kind of big data strategy.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.