Blog: The chief digital officer’s handbook


In last month’s blog, I was a little cheeky about (some) Chief Digital Officers.  And I stand by my point that many appear to have been appointed specifically in order to tell the world that their new employer is cool and up-to-date with the latest trends.  Because look, they have a CDO!

But as I did last month, I also willingly concede that there is another kind of CDO too.  A very valuable kind.  Ones that are at the heart of the digitisation agenda, actively changing the future of their businesses – and potentially their entire industries.

At the start of April, I was at Teradata’s European conference.  It featured French utility Enedis’ CDO, as well as a number of other speakers discussing the subject of digitisation and the role their own Chief Digital Officers play.  (Don’t worry though: this isn’t turning into an infomercial.  No further mention of my employer in the following paragraphs, I promise!).

It was fascinating to hear how these CDOs are engaging with their businesses, customers and partners to deliver often unprecedented levels of change.  So fascinating that I’ve shamelessly stolen just a few of their stories and their advice, added some of my own perspectives and summarised it all here.  I hope you find it informative.  Perhaps even useful.

It’s all about culture   

OK, a slight exaggeration perhaps.  But not a huge one.  I’m not sure there’s an accepted definition of a Chief Digital Officer or even a relatively standard job description.  But I’d call the good ones the tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, strategic change leaders.  A bit of a mouthful I know.  I probably have to work on that definition some more if it’s going to catch on.  But my point is that digitisation is in many ways a culture change programme, albeit with a healthy amount of IT enablement in there too.  As such, the CDO’s top partners are the HR Department and the IT Department.  Digitisation is not an HR initiative.  It’s not an IT initiative either.  But they’re both critical to the change.  A good CDO understands this and works closely with both to make the culture change happen.

Partners, not vendors

As well as HR and IT, a good CDO will understand the value of partnering with 3rd parties.  For many businesses hoping to take full advantage of digitisation, one of the biggest cultural hurdles is how projects are delivered.  Good old waterfall end-to-end, years-long delivery processes just don’t work in the new digital world.  And that means working in crazy1 new ways with names like scrum and agile.  Thing is though, to follow the scrum rules requires real and real-time openness and collaboration.  If you’re doing scrum, you can no longer involve anyone you think of as…ugh… vendors.  Those vendors need to become genuine partners, pulling with you day-to-day to achieve your goals.  And if that’s the case, they need to know what you know.  Everyone in a scrum team knows what’s going on.  All the time.  Are you ready for that?

Share everything

On the subject of everyone knowing what’s going on…one of the digitisation speakers I’m so shamelessly ripping off told us “share everything”.  His perspective was wider than project collaboration though – some of it based on the theory of anticipated reciprocity and some based on good old fashioned rules about beating the competition.  Embrace open data initiatives, as Enedis do, because sharing data is going to be of benefit to you in all sorts of ways you can’t even anticipate yet.  Sell what you’ve learned on your digitisation journey.  Sell it to competitors too.  Because if you’re solving their problems, they’re not solving them.

The IP is yours.  They may now have the tools and techniques you sold them, but they just bought their way out of a problem.  They haven’t got smarter along the journey, like you.  Bring your external initiatives back into the organisation2.  Have you created a new multi-channel web platform and slick new processes for your online engagement?  Bring them in-house.  Why do your employees have to deal with 20 different ERP screens to complete a transaction when your customers and perhaps even your suppliers can do it smoothly, elegantly and in half the time?

A common data platform

If we’re going to share everything with everyone; if we’re going to have common processes and right-time access to quality information, how else can we do that except via a common platform to support such lofty ambitions?  I don’t mean common applications.  The supply chain team will still need different apps to the CRM team or the asset management department.  Of course they will.  But a common data platform allows you to integrate data across all those departments and silos; make it available to those who need it, when they need it; accommodate internal, partner and customer access; and do it all securely and cost-effectively.  Put simply, you can’t deliver the digital agenda without these key building blocks.

Business outcomes led, technology enabled

So there we have it.  All this digitisation business turns out to be about culture, openness, sharing….and yes OK, a healthy bit of IT too.  Business outcomes led, technology enabled, you might say.  Driving such a transformation – and taking the company along with you – requires a very special kind of person.  How about we call them Chief Digital Officers?


1 They’re really not that crazy at all.  And they’re certainly not new.  But for many people used to traditional methods, they can be something of a surprise.

2 OK, this point didn’t actually come from a CDO at the conference.  A colleague told me this story about one of his clients.  But he did tell me the story while we were at the conference, so that counts, right?
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About the author:

David Socha is Teradata’s Practice Partner for the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).  He began his career as a hands-on electrical distribution engineer, keeping the lights on in Central Scotland, before becoming a part of ScottishPower’s electricity retail deregulation programme in the late 1990s. After a period in IT Management and Consulting roles, David joined Teradata to found their International Utilities practice, later also taking on responsibilities in Smart Cities and the wider Industrial IoT sector.


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