The chief digital officer role is alive, well and growing

Despite concerns that the role of chief digital officer could be on the way out, it actually appears to be alive and well as a new study predicts the number of CDOs will double this year.

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The report from the CDO Club found that the number of CDOs at UK companies doubled to 70 in 2014 and will double again this year. Globally there were almost 1,000 companies with a CDO role last year, twice as many as in 2013, with that figure again expected to double in 2015.

The ad sector has the largest percentage of CDOs, accounting for 36% of that total, followed by media companies with 18% and publishing firms with 13%. Non-profits, retail and financial services companies are also represented.

Companies with chief digital officers include McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Boots and Morrisons.

The CDO Club has a vested interest in predicting the rise of the chief digital officer as it runs a series of events aimed at those in the role.

Its research also contradicts findings from Forrester last year which forecast that just 1% of companies would hire a digital chief in 2014 as more companies rolled digital expertise into the job of areas such as marketing, rather than having it as a separate silo.

Digital boards

Digital expertise is also becoming increasingly important in roles right at the top of companies. The CDO Club claims that in the first quarter of 2015 three digital bosses were promoted to the CEO title, while four joined company boards as non-executive directors – more than in the whole of 2014.

Examples include Starbucks’ CDO Adam Brotman who sits on the board of retailer Nieman Marcus and Pearson’s Genevieve Shore who is on MoneySupermarket.com’s board

The CDO Club’s founder, David Mathison, argues that more companies should be following the example of MoneySupermarket.com.

“If disruption is happening in every industry—in publishing it’s making the audience have a direct relationship with the author, and musicians have a direct relationship with their fans—why can’t boards have a direct relationship with this digital talent?” he says.

In separate research Rhys Grossman, co-head of Russell Reynolds Associates’ digital transformation practice which helps companies staff with digital skills, found that currently just 1% of the biggest 100 companies in the UK have digital experience on the board, behind 4% in Europe and 8% in the US.

However he said this will need to change in order for companies to embrace opportunities such as social media, m-commerce and big data.

“The wholesale digital shift that many companies are facing head-on can only be achieved with the right expertise on the board that can advise on strategy and mobilise the entire organisation to meet its goals. For many companies this will entail hiring new talent and reskilling people for digital at almost every level,” he said.

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