Defining individual roles within the C-suite has forever remained challenging. In the last few years the distinction between the C level roles has become even narrower with the introduction of new titles such as CDO (Digital) and CDO (Data) into the mix.
The traditional C level positions namely CEO, COO and CFO have usually dealt with overseeing general business strategy, however, the new candidates, and I am adding the CMO (Marketing) into this bucket, are navigating the progressively intricate technology, digital and data components of the planet’s biggest conglomerates. As a result, these positions often intersect. It is therefore important to recognize the differences between the various positions so that companies are able to effectively allocate and manage responsibilities in an era of mounting technological and consumer demand.
Keeping aside the conventional three C-level roles I am often asked what the difference is between a CIO, CTO, CMO and now the two CDOs (Digital & Data). Obviously not all companies have all of these positions, and who they hire usually depends on where the companies are in their evolution and how profoundly they’d like to disrupt, adapt and embrace new paradigms so that they are ready for the next big thing, or maybe even become the next big thing.
The trend lately has been to either bucket responsibilities of technology, data and digital within existing C Level or Executive Level positions (not a good idea), or have separate executives each with a defined role. The roles will depend on the size and type of company with the larger ones likely having all these C level positions while the smaller concerns sharing the functions amongst the three traditional positions they may already have.
Let’s start by examining the two obvious ones – the CTO and CIO, both of which tend to blend into one another in some form. In fact many consider them to be one and the same thing. In some companies, one function reports to the other. In others they are kept separate but often seen meddling into each other's business. In fact with the Chief DataOfficer thrown into the mix, one starts to wonder if there is any difference between the role that deals with "information" versus one that deals with "data"?
The primary difference between the CIO and CTO roles is that of internal versus external facing functions as well as on bottom line versus top line growth respectively.
A company’s current technologies, infrastructure and IT systems be they hardware or software and anything internal about the company technically falls under the auspices of the CIO, who also ensures that the company is setup to adjust and harness all the latest technological developments. A CIO's focus is also usually the bottom line (profits).
The CTO’s focus, on the other hand, is on identifying and implementing new technologies, and it’s the more externally driven of the two roles — the CTO wants to make sure the customers and clients are on the receiving end of the highest-quality and most efficient technology possible. Although the CTO also manages the organization's internal engineering and IT groups, the focus is on external consumers and on top line (revenue).
Now let’s look at the CMO – Chief Marketing Officer. I suppose not much to discuss here since the proof is in the pudding itself, however in general the CMO’s wingspan spreads into product development, sales, customer service and of course marketing, promotions and public relations itself. The CMO works hand in hand with the C-suite to stay informed of the latest products, tech and customer feedback, so as to represent the company and its products in the best possible light to consumers.
Now let’s talk about the two CDO roles – new entrants into the C-Suite, both digitaland data with some overlapping responsibilities.
A Chief Data Officer gathers, mines, examines and scrutinizes data and information with the goal of advising strategy to develop the company’s business. With the Internet reaching the far expanses of the planet and people accessing practically everything online, the quantum of data that gets generated is beyond massive. To be able to capture, collect and then make sense of that data has become a task in itself, one that often reveals for example what consumers might be thinking or how they may be behaving, and help companies decide what actions to take in order to stay competitive and on top of consumer's minds. Chief Data Officers that in some companies are also known as the Chief Science Officer often have teams of PhDs and statisticians crunching numbers and conducting advanced decision modeling and analysis. They aim to help the company make decisions based on "data".
The Chief Digital Officer is the latest entrant to the Suite. It differs from the other Cs in that it is not "functional". In many ways it resembles the role of the CEO but with a digital focus. The underlying philosophy here is that the world is rapidly turning all digital and any strategy or tactic for the company, be it in finance, marketing, tech, data or information, needs to be rooted in "Digital". The Chief Digital Officer's role therefore is an all-encompassing one, a role so vital to modern business that I have dedicated two entirely separate articles on this role - one as an open letter to CEOs explaining why they ought to consider hiring a Chief Digital Officer, and the other article highlighting why every company needs a Chief Digital Officer. The Digital Officer drives organizational innovation by devising customer centric strategy that addresses technical, competitive, regulatory, and social/cultural changes in the market against the backdrop of looming disruption and an ever-changing relationship to social media and technology. Chief Digital Officers are larger than life by necessity. The sheer breadth of technology in the world demands a global management scope and truckloads of digital production. It’s a challenge that requires a special set of skills bolstered by a holistic mentality. That is the essence of the Chief Digital Officer. It’s a juncture, a place of synthesis in the C-suite, the best combination of the CTO, CIO and CMO. Most importantly, the Chief Digital Officer is the CEO's best friend.
At the end of the day the ultimate goal for all these C level roles is to use technology in a strategic way to boost the company’s business. Regardless of the alphabet in the center of the CXO, or whether one has more of a data centric role or a digital or marketing slant to their title, one thing is for certain that more and more companies are hiring or promoting C level executives that have the knowledge and experience to integrate tech into the business processes and strategy.
The Chief Digital Officer is the demand of the time, and many companies are even promoting their seasoned Digital Officer into their top job. At the end of the day, whatever you want to call your C level titles, it is important you dedicate key resources towards recruiting, training and promoting executives that have digital expertise. Only then will your company be positioned to tackle the demands of the new digital era.