A few years ago, each company hired a digital chief executive. More recently, the role has been eliminated or merged. Has the role of CDO survived?

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In the mid-2010s, news organizations and consulting services heralded the arrival and critical importance of the role of digital director general. McKinsey, a consulting firm, called it “main transformer”, As even the mass media declared the role vital and enduring.

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Most recently, instead of current press releases announcing newly-drafted CDOs, the role was called “Chief Disappearing Officer ”as companies quietly combine or eliminate the role.

Is the disappearance of CDO a good thing?

One theory about the growing shortage of CDOs is that it is designed. The role of the CDO is often billed as a transformative one that would help businesses understand and thrive in the digital age. Transformation is essentially a start and end event, and many suggest that truly transformative CDOs were successful when they made their own jobs obsolete.

This argument has some merit, as the role of the CDO is often charged as bridging the gap between CIO-led technology and other business roles. CIOs were thought to be too focused on technology, an accusation that is true based on the number of votes calling for coordination between IT and business units. CDOs are designed to interact with these different parts of the organization and help business leaders make sense of technology while driving IT first as a capability and later as a partner.

The global pandemic seems to have accelerated this fusion of technology, business and transformation. We were all forced to endure months of transformation and quickly adapt technology to business needs to support our teams, organizations and companies.

In this positive reading of the case of the disappearing CDO, these people essentially fulfilled their missions, perhaps even hastening the end of the pandemic game, requiring the transformation of even the most calcified organizations.

Or is losing a CDO a good thing?

The less charitable view of the abolition of the CDO’s role in many organizations is that it was often created in response to market trends, but it was a role without well-defined powers and no executive powers. There are certainly cases of organizations that have hired a talented person, given him a title and then actively block any effort they have made to transform their organizations.

In other cases, CDOs have admired the great technology and shiny items. Like modern fashionistas, these people became tiring when their solution to every problem was an expensive and often untested technological investment that quickly went out of fashion before demonstrating any measurable results.

Evolution rather than revolution

CIOs and CTOs have also become more proficient in business in most organizations, while their non-IT counterparts have become more technically savvy. Gone are the days when executives could laugh at not reading their emails or joining a video call. Technological transformation has become part of everyone’s job description, not a special task for a unique role at level C.

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This evolution is a natural result of enduring business trends. We are likely to see the latest harvest of new Level C roles, ranging from Chief Executive Officers for Sustainability to Chief Executive Officers for Diversity, gradually fade as these considerations shift from unique and new to a core business component, as usual.

Could the CIO be next?

If technology is increasingly embedded in business as usual, could the CIO be the next role to gradually fade in history textbooks? Trends such as cloud computing and hybrid networks have made the CIO tech-savvy guardian less and less relevant, at least as a C-level position.

However, the most influential CIOs typically combine the ability to identify, understand and apply emerging technology trends with the ability to manage what is often an extensive investment portfolio under the guise of technology infrastructure and ongoing projects. These two areas need to be understood and applied in the context of how they benefit the wider business, a gap that has led to the need for CDOs in many organizations.

If you are not actively involved in these spaces and spend most of your day worrying about operational issues, it may be worth rethinking your priorities.

The disappearing CDO: Could the CIO be next?

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