5 essential characteristics of a CDO

Meanwhile, the topic of digitization is no longer new and we at iTiZZiMO also keep on talking about it occupationally. But at least the calls for digital solutions for economy have positive results, more and more interested people contact us and tell us about their specific plans and realistic ideas. Frequently, those people are CDOs (Chief Digital Officer) of big companies that have the task to design and realize an overall digital strategyCDOs need to identify potentials for digital transformation of companies, they have to realize relevant projects and must guide all colleagues into a digital future.

The relevant potentials can be identified on several different levels, like establishment of digital products, digital marketing strategies or digitally optimized production processes but also the company culture needs to be considered to successfully transform companies digitally. Especially bigger companies assess those jobs to be that important so they install the position of a CDO, others eliminate their CDOs believing all employees must play their role in digital transformation. So, which characteristics does a CDO need to successfully manage all his challenging tasks? Within the research for this post we had a look at some CVs of CDOs. Mostly, the important characteristics are reflected within their career paths but nevertheless there are some surprises.

Here are the most important characteristics.

Understanding data, courage, leadership qualities, patience and foresight maybe are the most imprtant characteristics for a CDO.

1. Understanding data

A CDO deals with everything digital. so it makes sense that he has some understanding of IT and data. Furthermore he needs to talk to the CIO or Head of Development on an equal footing. The knowledge doesn’t necessarily need to come from conventional learning pathways, like studies. Just around 20% of the CDOs we analyzed have a verifiable IT-background, two thirds are business economists, but of course we don’t doubt that they have IT-knowledge, too.

2. Courage

At least digital transformation is about rethinking established processes and maybe even question whole business models. Not for nothing a CDO is located at the top level of a company. But he shouldn’t feel too comfortably at this level. As a CDO initiates a transformation process and accompanies it for a while but doesn’t need to be at this position permanently. After having taken the right steps CDOs can commit to new challenges.   

3. Leadership qualities

To push forward digital transformation in companies a CDO talks to different people to realize his ideas. So a CDO does need typical leadership qualities. Round about 90% of the CDOs we analyzed have made leadership experience in several positions before they became CDO. Those qualities are empathy, a big goal they want to achieve and especially being a responsible example for the people you lead. To be honest, who really believes in a CDO who doesn’t show enthusiasm for digital transformation?

Patience is better than hectic rush.

4. Patience

Profound business decisions rarely are made within one or two days, especially when the rest of the management team doesn’t really deal with the digital organization. Furthermore the digital strategy must be future-proof. So better invest more time into planning and choosing the best instruments than recognizing half way through realization that it was the wrong way. Even when a good CDO is convinced by the positive results of his ideas his colleagues might need a little more time and don’t want to be pushed but accompanied on the way into new digital worlds. In addition, a CDO always can learn new things from realizes projects. So, a well thought out digital strategy is intended to be realized step-by-step.

5. Foresight

CDOs who just think within their speciality and don’t take a look into other companies and branches very likely won’t be really successful. Too often new competitors emerge from the software-side and therefore aren’t included into conventional analysis with focus on branches. So, a CDO has to look at new trends and analyze whether they can become dangerous or valuable.  

For a CDO it’s helpful to have those characteristics but of course they don’t guarantee success. Comparing the career paths of CDOs you rarely can identify patterns. Whether the expertise comes from several job positions within the same corporate group or through different task areas and employers really isn’t relevant at all. There also are companies that face digital transformation without having a named CDO and companies that prefer committees with lots of different people. Whether the responsible one it called CDO, CIO, CEO or Head of Development, basically it’s all about having one person (or a group of) that established digitization and takes the opportunities related to it.