CDOs are the new CEO (only better) but they’re rarer than blood diamonds

CDOs are the new CEO (only better) but they’re rarer than blood diamonds

Ever wondered what happened to the cantankerous old hack The Old Chairman? Well, he’s clearly not dead as this latest column proves…

As far as company visions go, ‘”let’s be the Google of alcohol distribution!”, recently suggested by an enthusiastic team member to the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Dan Murphys, doesn’t quite make the cut on ‘clarity of purpose’ for me.

“The Google of alcohol consumption” makes slightly more sense for the small media company I work for (we have the people for it), but realistically we don’t have the capital, platforms or technical leadership to scale the idea.

Dan Murphys does have capital, technology leadership and, it would appear, quite a bit of motivation. What comes next according to their CDO, Faye Ilhan, speaking recently at the Harvey Nash Innovation and Transformation panel event in Sydney, is the hard part.

“If you aren’t absolutely clear with your tech team about purpose and goals, you’ll end up herding cats. You need a very simple framework your team can relate to.”

Ilhan uses a few easy to recall rules for her team to constantly check themselves. She listed ‘ruthless prioritisation’, ‘ proceed and be bold’ and ‘imperfect but done is vastly better than not done’ as key among those that are practiced at Dan Murphys.

Ilhan also said that a very well understood clarity of purpose is a basic in a market where demand for digital talent is almost always significantly outweighing supply. Having a team that is very clear about why they exist, can give you an edge in hiring, she said.

Ilhan understood a lot  more about Dan Murhphys than the technology they needed to transform the place. She had a grasp of just about everything that was going to make that business grow.

Anna Frazzetto, the global chief digital technology officer at Harvey Nash, says she’s the real deal – a rare breed of emerging manager called the CDO.

Frazzetto told the audience that many organisations have still not sorted out the issue of technology leadership and quoted reasonably low percentages in most OECD countries of medium to large companies who had employed a CDO.

According to the Harvey Nash global CIO survey released this week some 20% of Australian companies say they have a CDO role,  just above the global average of 19%.  The US ranks quite low in the list with 14% and the UK is  on 22%. Southern European countries such as Spain and France have very high percentages for some reason (the sun?) – 47% and 31% respectively.

The bad news is that true CDOs are like blood diamonds: rare and traded internationally for high sums of money by mysterious, highly networked and often exotic characters  – the heads of global IT search firms.

That’s because to be a good CDO you need to have experience in technology, product development, marketing , finance as well as all the key emotional traits you usually will need in a good CEO. That’s someone you might  be lucky to see on the next instalment of The Avengers. In fact, find one of these gems, and  it feels a bit like you may be able to skip the whole CEO thing and save yourself some serious coin.

CEO is so 1900-2015 really. And a lot of CEO types do have quite an ego. Adding technology to  the mix seems to ground people and make them just that little bit more authentic and humble. I think it’s because if you’ve really been a technologist, at some point you’ve probably had to build something tangible from scratch (even useful) , not just market  and sell something that someone else built.

Frazzetto says a good CDO balances technology drivers such as social, mobile cloud and data analytics with the business demand to drive more revenue.

“It is a unique role that bridges technology, business, finance and operations”, she told B&T. Hmmm… that’s just  a CEO without the technology thrown in right?

Technology leadership is at the heart of the transformation game says Frazzetto. “The CDO role is one of most critical positions a company contemplating transformation or going through transformation has to fill”, she said.

In Australia, while many organisations report that they have the CDO role in their organisation it’s clear in many instances that the person they actually have  doesn’t  fit the emerging super human job spec that the CDO role is starting look like.

In many instances, the CDO role is either filled with a learner, or someone who just doesn’t have all those skills and possibly never will. Or it’s not filled.

Not to worry. Frazzetto says Australia has a good crop of true CDO talent and in this respect  we’re quite lucky.

Unless of course you’re a CEO with a dire need to navigate digital disruption and/or transformation and you’re tech skills topped out after  you finally learnt how to program a DVD player circa 20012 ( I myself never got on top of the DVD remote in my house).

“ I can think of some great senior executives in Australia that are true CDOs”, Frazzetto told us all. I was wondering why the guy next to me suddenly shivered like a ghost just walked through him. He was an over 45  CEO.

Given all the hoo haa surrounding these emerging mystical CDO creatures you can imagine how hard it might be to hold onto one, once you’ve actually snagged a live version, or  you’ve  done the hard yards and developed one internally. If you have, never let one out in public without a minder to accompany them, preferably an ex Navy seal or CIA assassin to scare off any suitors. Someone who can spot search firm exotics, charismatic sociopath tech CEO’s and the like from 50 yards, and steer your talent away from these temptresses to the bar in the far  and dark corner with the wide eyed crazies (real tech people) who just want to talk about scalable on demand BI or the latest ruby on rails modules.

The growing criticality and value of the CDO role makes you wonder whether perhaps there isn’t a business in trading CDOs like sports stars to lessen the impact of losing one. For instance if you hire a well known star CDO and they get made an offer they can’t refuse from some naff but famous West Coast scale-up, why couldn’t you at least pick up a lucrative transfer fee to offset the disappointment and trouble of finding someone else?

If the idea  took off we could start fantasy technology teams and run scoring based on revenue CAGR, customer acquisition and Net Promoter Score. And if we got that far we might as well introduce a salary cap system, something which is clearly needed to even the playing field for talent when you have to compete with the  likes of digital imperialist distribution monopolies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.


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