Five facts you should know about Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) in India


Digital transformation, the phrase used to describe the change needed by enterprises to compete in the new digital era, often implies very specific and different things. Yet, there’s a growing consensus that some sort of adjustment is needed by businesses to remain relevant.

The discourse around digital transformation has—almost from its beginning—been accompanied by an intense debate on who should lead this change in the organization. While tech (CIOs) and marketing (CMOs) have been the major claimants, many large organizations have also gone for people who have been from the core business and understand the business processes very well.

A designated Chief Digital Officer (CDOs) has been one of the major responses to this need.

While exact roles vary, the broad brief for the CDOs is to create changes in business processes to optimize them for the new digital regime. Often, that includes proactively looking for disruptive changes that can be initiated using new ideas and new tech-leveraged solutions.

How mainstream it has become? Going by Gartner’s prediction in 2012, by the end of 2015, one in every four large companies should have had a designated CDO.

What is the reality? CIO&Leader had, in October last year, researched the Indian CDO landscape and presented some basic trends[1]. Since then, there have been some changes and the ‘realities’ presented here are based on that updated data.

1. You have not fallen behind

Do not go by the big numbers. Every one out of ten companies in the US would hire a CDO by 2016, claimed a media report adding that in India, that number would be double in India. Other such forecasts and predictions also give such superlatives.

They are absolutely misleading. Data suggests that there are not more than two dozen CDOs in large Indian businesses. This is not including the CDOs positions in the following type of companies:

  • digital native companies (such as e-commerce and online businesses) which are largely ornamental or
  • advertising/marketing/PR/social media agencies where the role of the CDOs is to sell ‘digital transformation’ than drive it
  • very small companies

Do not go by LinkedIn search. It may throw up some 500 results but most of them belong to the three categories mentioned above.

2. The hiring trend is picking up, however

While the numbers are still small—we could compile a list of 21 CDOs—most of them were hired in 2016. As many as 13 of the 21 started their CDO jobs last year. From the rest, all but two are less than two years old in their CDO jobs. That way, 2016 was a decisive turn in the trend. We will be able to say more definitely if the trend is irreversible by the end of 2017.

Significantly, there is not a single CDO we found who has served in the position for more than one company. They are all first generation CDOs. No Indian CDO, from the time we have started tracking, has resigned.

3. No, the CDOs are not dominantly marketing pros

Contrary to the hype, marketing is not the leading claimant to the CDO position. Globally, it is the core business guys—who have handled different parts of the business and understand it thoroughly—have been given the charge of leading the change. India too was treading a similar path. But going by the latest hires, the equation seems to have tilted in favor of tech professionals. Four of the five new hires in the second half of 2016 are tech professionals.

Eight each in our list of CDOs in top companies come from core business while eight come from technology background. There are four marketing professionals while one comes from consulting background.

So, this round seems to have gone in favor of techies. But these are early times yet and numbers are small. So, things may change drastically.

Regrettably, even in this new age position, the gender gap is visible with just two ladies—both marketing professionals—being in the list. No transformation there yet.

All of them are engineers or MBAs or both.

4. They DO NOT belong to the new generation

The CDOs are mostly experienced. More than half have more than 20 years of experience and all but two have more than 15 years of experience. It is understandable as the position is not one of creating disruptive innovation—which the younger lot is typically good at—but carrying the entire organization.   

5. Insurance clearly leads but the rest are spread across

While insurance clearly leads in terms of CDO positions with one out of every four CDOs being in this industry, there is no clear trend other than that. The rest of the CDOs are distributed across industries, both B2B and B2C though the latter clearly lead. 

Here’s a list of top Indian Chief Digital Officers:

Kids Clothes[2]

References

  1. ^ presented some basic trends (www.cioandleader.com)
  2. ^ Kids Clothes (www.rdv-histoire.com)

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