Time to reinvent the Global Chief Digital Officer

A head hunter sent me a job spec recently for this role. The thing that struck me about it was that it was designed from the same script I would have read when I was assessing the UK Head of Digital role at Zenith many moons ago. It had the same ring to it. Basically it asked the applicant to be a God of all things digital, drive digital strategy, pitch and win business, develop a content role, run teams and be a social guru amongst other things.
The fact is even since 2008 life is a lot more complicated. The demands are greater all around. Since then the word strategy actually means something, we have added a real need to develop a social and content strategy, search has become evermore complicated, advertisers want a Youtube approach, there is RTB more recently and the top of the pops – Partnerships. We only have partners now, with that however comes work on both sides. All of which our heroic Global chief digital officer is meant to keep and eye on.
The reality is something very different, running from one global pitch to the next, spending less and less time on strategic direction, becoming more and more removed from each of the specialist topics and ultimately not having any control of anything as your scope is too wide to even know what one country is doing from the next, and when it comes to the US one city to the next.
The one thing that digital promised and never delivered was efficiency through technology, in fact the opposite happened, it created carnage amongst organisations. Multiple adservers, platforms, bid technologies, tag solutions, DSPs and so on. The organisation and consolidation of tech has not been achieved by any of the media groups. This is not just a problem of technical and data driven turmoil but also wasted man hours. There are analyses of technology solutions going on all over the world, evaluating tools country by country at any one time. How many adserving reviews across EMEA across any given group. This all takes time and stifles the opportunity to create efficiencies and economies of scale. Why is this happening? It happens because no one has the true authority or bandwidth to control it. I use tech as an example but could be a number of other areas.
I am reminded of a meeting I was in with Carolyn Everson as she joined Microsoft, OK may not be the best example but I wondered how you join an organisation like that and succeed with so much going on. As it turned out that was too much for her too but I liked her first stab as she made it clear the three things she was going to focus on. And that was it. Three things. I believe the Global Chief Digital Officer needs the same. There is too much for one person to be all things to all subjects. You become generalist to the point of irrelevance, better to focus. And more than ever be commercial.
There should be less KPIs and more focused on bringing about business benefit to the organisation through a commercial approach and that means driving a few parts of the business in directions they might not like but will benefit the whole. Strategy needs strategists not CDOs, let them be part of the team. People clamour and claim that digital is at the heart of the business, and you know to some extent it is, at least compared to ten years ago, but what is not is a global, commercial and focused digital business plan, that needs work and a lot of it. I would argue that teams of specialists need to grow in this mould with a CEO of digital, A team focused on achieving less, but better, running a business that delivers to the bottom line through creating a commercial framework focused on scaling and consistencies.
Last and focused on one individual point in the title, the role should be global. That works in both directions, if it is a US role then don’t forget the rest of the world, and no that is not a cliché, and if it is a European lead, you better spend a lot of time in US, ASIA as well as EMEA. If you focus on global and a few things, you can achieve a lot.
I look forward to seeing the first Global Digital CEO, that comes with the same weighty KPIs as any other CEO role.
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