Spotlight on 5 Archetypes of the Chief Digital Officer

In their race to keep up with the pace of digital transformation, more companies are turning to a new breed of executive to lead the way: the chief digital officer. Although the actual title itself can vary, the CDO is responsible for the broad mission of defining a company’s digital strategy and implementing the tactical measures which will lead to the company’s full-fledged digitization.

technical officerHowever, while deciding to hire a CDO is one thing, finding the right person for the job is quite another. Since the role of a CDO is a relatively new one, and because its mandate is so nebulous, an understanding of what the position actually involves can vary tremendously from person to person and from one company to another. For many enterprises, identifying what they specifically need from a CDO can be a struggle, as it often depends on a company’s clear understanding of its current level of digital maturity, its goals and strategies going forward, and its particular areas of weakness.

To help guide companies in their efforts to find the CDO who best matches their situation, a recent article from Strategy&, the strategy consulting business of PwC, outlines five distinct CDO “archetypes,” describing both their characteristics and the types of companies to whom they are best suited. The archetypes include:

  1. The progressive thinker

The progressive thinker provides the kind of broad, imaginative vision that is just what many incumbents need to kick-start their digital transformation. This CDO type thinks imaginatively about how digitization could impact and transform a company’s business model and serves as the inspirational powerhouse in moving the company toward a fully digital strategy and digitized operating model. At their best when working directly with the CEO, progressive thinkers draw innovative ideas and methods from other companies both within and beyond their own industry, and work to embed them into their company’s operations.

Progressive thinkers can greatly benefit traditional industrial companies, including firms in the chemical, oil and gas, or mining sectors. Typically, such companies already have a solid set of differentiating capabilities, but have not yet fully benefitted from digitization and the lack the in-house expertise and vision to get there on their own.

  1. The creative disrupter

technical officerWhereas the progressive thinker is all about the big picture, the creative disrupter is a much more hands-on type of CDO. The creative disrupter has both experience and interest in the continuous development of new digital technologies and is comfortable using ideas and practices from outside the traditional conventions of the industry to dramatically overhaul business models and implement radical solutions. One of the biggest strengths of creative disrupters is their ability to work with the CEO to develop a business-oriented approach that focuses on building competitive differentiation as the best way of driving revenue growth and increased profitability.

The creative disrupter can be a significant asset to companies in consumer-centered industries that have been severely shaken by the pace and scale of digital change, such as publishing or retail firms.

  1. The customer advocate

The primary mission of the customer advocate is to ensure that the customer experience is convenient, engaging, and seamless across both digital and physical channels. This includes not only online sales, but follow-up maintenance and post-sales customer care operations, as well. This CDO type is market-driven and customer-oriented, and is best suited to working with a company’s chief marketing officer or head of sales.

The customer advocate is a good addition to retail, banking, travel, and other customer-facing companies where digital transformation may already be happening, but has not yet been fully incorporated into the fabric of daily sales and marketing operations.

  1. The innovative technologist

technical officerWhile the innovative technologist is content to remain within industry boundaries (unlike the progressive thinker and the creative disrupter), this individual has far from a business-as-usual mindset. Instead, much as a business-focused chief information officer or chief technology officer would, the innovative technologist leverages new digital technologies to boost speed and efficiency, as well as to develop new business models which see physical products combined with additional digital services. Favored technologies of this CDO type include the Internet of Things, social media, and data analytics: all potential tools which can be used to optimize internal efficiency and cut costs.

Companies looking to optimize their entire value chain through digital technology would do well to bring in an innovative technologist. Manufacturing companies, whose physical factories and production steps like design and prototyping are ripe for disruption, are perhaps the best example.

  1. The universalist

Possessing the most visionary qualities of all five CDO archetypes and requiring a forceful mandate and full execution power from the CEO, the universalist oversees all aspects and all value-creation components of a comprehensive digital transformation. The universalist’s responsibilities not only include key tactics like devising new business models, implementing digital technologies, and digitizing the ways in which employees perform their tasks, but bigger cultural elements like administering the organizational change management process.

The universalist is a classic example of desperate times calling for powerful measures. This type of CDO is valuable for companies in any industry that have been outpaced by the rate of digital change and that are in need of a leader to take them through a rapid and comprehensive digital transformation.