This article is about Technology

The Digital Agenda

Paulo Henrique Bezerra

Published at
27 de May de 2021

That the digital universe is expanding, we all already know. But a question can be asked in a business context: who should lead this agenda?

In a 2019 study, were analyzed the scope of the role of CDO - Chief Digital Officer - in the 2,500 largest companies listed on the stock exchange. The survey  found that the rate of creation of CDO positions decreased sharply compared to the previous survey, conducted in 2016. Only 54 companies surveyed (2.2%) had created a new and distinct CDO position in 2018, compared to 124 that did so in 2017 and 160 in 2016. As such, the consultancy claims that “2016 was the highest point in hiring CDOs”.

The explanation? “Leaders of many companies now believe that putting a single person in charge of digital transformation may not be the best approach, because it's a strategic priority intrinsic to the entire business. Agility becomes critical for survival,” the report stated. Another study, this one done by the World Economic Forum, shows that the average term of a CDO is 31 months — the shortest of all "C-Level" positions — and that number is falling. In addition, more than three-quarters of them leave the company immediately after their term as CDO.

That the digital universe is expanding, we all already know. But a question can be asked in a business context: who should lead this agenda within companies? As digital and traditional businesses become just one, will companies need a single leader for the role? If a leader taking responsibility for the digital transformation is an existing executive, do we need to have a centralized name?

There are leaders of companies that think of the true digital opportunity as one that is focused on revenue. That is, the biggest opportunity is to sell existing or new products and services through digital channels, such as the company's website or mobile app. If that's the case, it might seem logical to have a company's customer-centric sales or marketing leader lead the role. But what if we take into account aspects such as tools that include the governance infrastructure and applications responsible for managing data used in digital initiatives?

Customer-centric role leaders may not have the experience or knowledge in the areas needed to influence each one. Analytics areas for this leadership are soon thought of. In another perspective, there are also structures related to traditional technology, with the role of CTOs or CIOs. In contrast, similarly, these roles do not have customer service responsibilities, and this puts them at a disadvantage in suggesting and leading opportunities that should benefit customers.

Could it be that, once the first waves of transformation are effectively introduced, with established programs, the title may not be necessary? Can an investment framework for change help ensure that the innovation portfolio (with a focus on revenue/customers or cost savings) is managed more effectively?

Expanding further on what the research at the beginning of this publication says, I extend the "agility" agenda. Focused on skills in roles that make change happen in the tactical and operational layers, receiving directions from the company's strategic layer. And what are they? These are skills associated with agile development.

Digital transformation requires agile development that focuses on developing projects iteratively. Agile Coachs, Scrum Masters, Product Owners. User Experience are the roles that drive this transformation. Agile Coachs formulate a transformation path based on the so-called “value stream”; Scrum Masters emphasize agendas, reports, and frequent team-wide meetings to map out phases of developments and projects.

Product Owners are responsible for the product being developed. They define the product vision in the short, medium and long term, tracing the development path for delivering value. Finally, User Experience teams act on customer experiences and employees' experiences, depending on who a particular product or project is aimed.

The digital revolution is coming, and while it may seem like the pace of change is fast now, it's only going to get faster. And we can all (need) be digital leaders. For this, it is necessary to discuss skills along with traditional roles and positions. These skills combine business disciplines and technical knowledge. And they demand the direction the company wants to follow.

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