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What is a chief digital officer? A digital strategist and evangelist in chief

Minda Zetlin | Oct. 4, 2017
A chief digital officer strategically transforms a company’s technological future in a way many CIOs don’t have the bandwidth to do.

Because of sea changes like these, Doonan asks some tough questions before starting a search. “If a company can’t explain in 20 words or less why they want a chief digital officer, I don’t get involved,” he says.

What’s a good reason to hire a chief digital officer? “When there’s a role for someone who thinks about the company in three to five years,” he says. “Where you have an organization where the CTO is just focused on engineering, and the product person is just focused on product, and the CIO is just focused on the back end.”

This is why some experts — Doonan included — believe that in a company with an effective, business-oriented CIO, a chief digital officer is unnecessary. It’s also and why some CIOs are adding chief digital officer to their titles.

In time, it probably won’t matter. “Chief digital officer” will likely become meaningless since, increasingly, everything is digital. “It is no different from what you saw in the late ’90s when companies appointed internet czars,” Gurumurthy says. “That has gone away because the internet is part of the fabric of every company now. In nine or ten years, using analytics will be a big part of the business; it will no longer be a vertical.”

“What is ‘digital?’” asks Curt Stevenson, chief digital officer at insurance software company Duck Creek Technologies. “It can be used as kind of a catchall — we don’t do anything on paper.” Or, as a friend asked upon hearing his title: “As opposed to chief analog officer?”


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