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Prevent turf wars by selecting one digital leader

Due to both the “strategic importance” and the “organizational challenge” of the digital transformation process, a procedural question naturally arises:

Who should lead the digital effort? Here are a few options:

A. A new senior executive position of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to lead the digital AXA, GE, CVS, Michelin, Caterpillar, and Starbucks are among the leading organizations that chose to appoint a CDO.

B. Other organizations have decided to designate one of their top executives or board members to serve as the Digital Leader or even assign the title of VP Digital, in addition to their other duties.

C. In some organizations, the CEO is leading, personally take charge of the digital transformation effort.

As the digital transformation evolved, additional positions with the name “digital” began to appear – despite the different focus in their role. One example is the use of the title “digital manager” for a marketing manager who is assigned responsibility for marketing and advertising in the digital channels (the website, mobile, social media, email, etc.) Digital channels are currently attracting more attention and resources at the expense of established channels (newspapers, radio. TV). The marketing digital manager usually receives responsibility for a specific area – marketing and advertising in digital channels, and not overall responsibility for leading the organization’s digital transformation

Let’s look briefly at two findings from the report “A New Class of Digital Leadership” survey published in June 2017 by Strategy &, a subsidiary of PWC. This study was based on responses from 2,500 managers who serve as digital leaders in a wide range of companies, business sectors, and countries. The survey indicated that

  • 19% of the organizations had a designated digital leader in 2016, up from only 6% a year earlier.
  • About 60% of the digital leaders identified in the study were appointed to their position since 2015 – that is, the process has accelerated in recent years.

Another survey shows the distribution of officers responsible for leading the digital transformation. The survey was conducted in April 2017 by The Economist’s research unit for British Telecom and included 400 CEOs in multinational corporations in 13 countries.

  • In 47% of the organizations that participated in the survey, the CIO was placed in charge of the digital transformation;
  • In 26% of the organizations, the responsibility was assigned to the CDO, and
  • In 22% of the organizations, the CEO decided to personally lead the process.

Neutrally, there is no correct or incorrect answer here. Each organization should choose to implement this idea of designating a Digital Leader in the way best suited for its business objectives, organizational structure, work processes, organizational culture, and relevant personnel.

Yet, one thing is clear: Someone must assume OVERALL responsibility for the digital transformation effort because it is a strategic mission that encompasses the entire organization – avoid the turf war (for example between the CDO and the CIO) and select ONE leader.

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