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Every Business Needs a CDO

Apr 22, 2014

We've emphasized the importance of appointed transformation leaders—chief digital officers (whether they have CDO on their business cards or not)—to lead enterprise innovation and transform physical value networks into digital value networks.

Dan Woods, CTO of CITO Research and a Forbes contributing writer, recently spoke with one such leader, Pano Anthos, CDO of Speakman, a maker of plumbing products. Anthos is a serial entrepreneur and consultant on digital strategy. In this interview, he argues that every type of business must have a digital strategy. He also explains the role that a CDO must play to be successful.

Why do you think so many companies are now instituting the role of CDO?

For three reasons, actually. First, it used to be that digital was defined as having a website, and now it’s omnichannel. If your product is sold in retail stores, it is accessible on any device, and there has to be consistency across all user experiences. 

Second, people use the internet more effectively than ever before. Consumers spend a great deal of time researching product information before they ever walk into a store or purchase online. Your digital content is extremely important. 

Third, your community has an enormous impact on your brand. The internet is a very transparent marketplace, so if your products are bad, your reviews reflect that, and so will sales. That transparency’s never existed before. Before, if your product was bad, no one really knew unless there was a recall by the federal government. Word of mouth travelled very slowly. Now there are reviews for everything, with Yelp saying stay away from that restaurant or Glassdoor saying don’t work at that company. 

Down the road, companies must prepare for the Internet of Things, where even hardware manufacturers have to deliver a digital experience. Look what Nest has done.  Who would’ve thought a thermostat would go digital like it did?

How should the success of a chief digital officer be judged?

A CDO should infuse a company from top to bottom with information from digital channels and the ability to reach out to connect with customers.

A CDO should make sure that product development is influenced by digital and includes digital as part of its overall development and supply chain.  It includes customer service, so that the digitization of customer service is real and balanced and customer service mechanisms are in place to respond on a digital level and listen on a digital level. Content that gets produced should be designed for digital. It’s not long-form, boring copy; it’s copy that speaks loudly and photography and imagery that captures the brand.

Success means efficiency, so that people with short attention spans get what they want quickly and get out. They don’t have to go through 30 forms to say, “I want to buy this product.”

CDOs must ensure that the brand is everywhere, on every platform, wherever customers are. CDOs must make sure all of this happens in the order that it will have the most business impact. 

CDOs must train people and lead by example, which is powerful. Cultural change happens incrementally, but it happens by example. Companies see, “by caring for our community, we actually have a community.  People like us.  They care for us.”  They see results in other areas, like, “look at this development pipeline. It’s been shortened dramatically because we’re using digital best practices.”

What then is your advice to CDOs about how to be effective? The role you describe could be executed in many different ways. A CDO could be a coach or run a center of excellence or have a large staff in charge of various domain areas. 

It’s an amalgam. The CDO is a coach to other C-suite executives. The CDO helps sales as well as operations understand digital’s impact and coaches them in moving in the right direction. When new initiatives get the green light, CDOs are the first implementer, with their own dev shop or by using agencies and consultants. Of course, the website, as a real digital platform, is in the CDO’s domain. The CDO needs a deep understanding of mobile and the mobile user experience.

What’s the mindset of a successful CDO, as opposed to somebody who just plays one on TV?

CDOs must always be learning, using iterative methods that allow for feedback and adjustments. You have to apply the latest best practices from leading-edge startups. You’ve got to incorporate best of breed and best practices, in terms of user experience and collaboration patterns and technologies. You really are an instrument of cultural change, showing people what’s possible, giving them new ways of thinking about rolling product out, bundling product, marketing product, marketing services, and building products and services. Look what’s happened to IBM. They rethought their whole business in terms of services. They were a hardware company.  You’re going to see a lot more of this as the digital wave washes over the non-digital companies. 

As a CDO, you create new ways of thinking about how people sell product and market product. And it’s satisfying because it’s working, at Speakman and at many, many other organizations. 

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