Digital, Post-Digital and the Unlikely Arrival of the CDO
Fuzzy language is fuzzy thinking.
Two of the fuzziest words there are? Digital and social media.
I often hear clients using digital to mean any number of things. Social media is mostly used as a stand in for the most popular or recent crop of successful platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest etc.
The casual disregard for any rigour in what we mean when we use these terrms is not only lazy (I am often guilty myself ) but it often impacts our ability to create shared meaning when working in teams. It can be especially confusing when trying to apply governance to such sprawling, unwieldy terms.
So here are my definitions:
Digital denotes anywhere that information is being digitised for purpose of storage, computing, and retrieval. Digital leads to three classes of business opportunity
- Digital Operations: digitising business (largely an IT endeavour) to allow for better, faster, cheaper operations. IT most often play in this arena of digital. What is interesting is that the ubuiquity of consumer devices and applications in this arena are forcing IT to begin working at two speeds. Slow – dedicating themselves to long-term evolution of core systems. Fast – keeping pace with the demands their customers are making for simple, well designed tools that they are experiencing as consumers (iPhone, Gmail, Evernote, Basecamp, etc. etc.). Value: Operational effectiveness.
- Digital Business. Digital creates new forms of business opportunity. New business models (e.g. software as a service, disruptive businesses like Square, freemium services etc.) and entirely new businesses (connected devices, cloud storage businesses and so on). R&D and innovation teams will largely be playing in this area of digital. Value: Innovation and leadership.
- Digital Communications: digital has opened myriad new platforms for communicating. Roughly 26% of time spent in media is now spent online. Spending time with these forms of media in turn change customer expecations. We now demand immediacy, interaction, and sociality in all communcations (this alone should be the subject of a future post since that statement – in a nutshell – neatly describes my entire counsel to companies around the impact of social technologies on business). Most marketers are thinking of this definition when they speak about digital. Value: Marketing effectiveness, reputation management)
Within this last domain of Digital Communications you have social media.
Social media is already pretty well defined. The Wikipedia version will do…
“Social media is the interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks”. Social media is a game changer because it democratises publishing and shifts both cultural norms of how organisations need to behave, the new rules for managing reputation as well as the mechanics of getting/keeping and monetizing attention.
Each of the categories above requires someone in the business to own it if a large organisation is going to keep pace with the rate of competitive change.
This is why we are hearing talk of the Chief Digital Officer, a role that will be able to knit together these disparate areas and stakeholders into something resembling a coherent business transformation exercise.
While I respect the idea of a CDO, I am not convinced that it can work… yet. Why? Because each of the above domains is vast and deep. Most organisations have a hard enough time giving a digital marketing officer proper room and respect to succeed. The concept of a CDO expands what is an already (often) dysfunctional relationship. Further, the very notion that what is “digital” should be compressed into a single figurehead is something is a dubious presumption. From my perspective we are entering the post-digital world where many of these skills and behavioural traits that we have seen fostered by digital disruption will simply be the job requirements of the next generation.
So should we have a CDO?
No, I think what we will see is two developments:
- The merging of corporate disciplines. We are already seeing organisations placing the CCO under the CMO as the world recognises that brand and reputation are two sides of the communications coin.
- Digital expertise will increasingly become a defining requirement for positions such as the CMO, the CCO and heading up Innovation, Customer Experience, Insight/Intelligence roles or R&D. To me that is a much more sensible means to an end. If I were a CEO and digital was highest on my agenda, I would be looking to fill my senior positions with people who have managed their careers up the digital ladder…