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What is a Chief Digital Officer position?

We are living amidst the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which means we are experiencing a digital transformation. Along with it comes disruptive technology that is transforming every industry in existence. When digitally transforming well-established organizations, selecting a leader to guide an enterprise can drive the business to success—or its extinction. A chief digital officer (CDO) strategically helps organizations break into disruptive technology. How do you become a chief digital officer and help organizations transform?

What is a Chief Digital Officer?

A CDO oversees the digital implementation in a business. Companies typically hire CODs to plan and execute their digital transformation. Chief digital officers should not be mistaken for chief technology officers (CTO) since a CTO usually ensures the technology within a company aligns with its business goals. Meanwhile, a CDO focuses on implementing disruptive technology.
Overlaps between the CDO and CTO roles certainly exist. Notably, while a CDO position is highly recommended for industries seeking digital transformation, the function may or may not continue after digitalization. That is where the CTO position may come into effect.

Chief Digital Officer Job Description and Skills

The chief digital officer’s job description is quite complex. A combination of strong leadership abilities and technical experience makes an ideal CDO. Depending on the company, a CDO must:

  • Digitally transform existing business models by implementing disruptive technologies
  • Deliver digital solutions that respond to customer needs
  • Oversee technological applications from planning to execution
  • Research emerging technologies that can accelerate achieving business goals
  • Analyze data to make informed decisions regarding digital implementation
  • Develop metrics to determine the ROI of digital efforts
  • Strategizes product development with digital inputs
  • Communicate digital strategies to stakeholders
  • Set digital strategies
  • Monitor budgets

Beyond completing the required tasks, a CDO should possess the following skillset:

  • Collaboration skills
  • Effective communication
  • Leadership abilities
  • Technology knowledge
  • Strategic planning and implementation
  • Research and forecasting abilities
  • Software development

Leading Data as a CDO

Today, collecting and analyzing data requires utilizing disruptive technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the internet of things—all of which a CDO must implement. Taking the acquired data and making impactful decisions makes a coherent and successful chief digital executive.
The ability to apply data to digital production and processes is critical as a CDO. Implementing digital technology alone isn’t enough. Knowledge of the data ecosystem such as databases, artificial intelligence, data governance, and cybersecurity help fuel a CDO’s success. Moreover, data leadership can build an organization’s culture, optimize the organization of information and data, and guide an enterprise toward implementing new technologies to better manage its business.

How Do You Become a CDO?

Becoming a chief digital officer certainly doesn’t happen overnight. 15+ years of experience with a technology background and constant research in disruptive tech are pillars of the role. Further, leadership abilities and data analytics, planning, and decision-making are also key elements. Some abilities needed to become a chief digital officer include:

1. Familiarize yourself with disruptive technologies

Disruptive technologies change the way industries operate. Some include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Machine Learning (ML)
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Blockchain
  • The Cloud

Deep knowledge of these technologies and applying collected data to forecasting are the first steps to becoming a CDO. Additionally, researching and being aware of emerging technologies that can help achieve business goals is fundamental too.

2. Implement digital transformation

Companies hire CDOs because their business needs a digital transformation. Strong knowledge of business models, objectives, finances, forecasting, strategic planning, prioritization, and negotiation are the foundations of digital transformation implementation. Applying all these business skills allows CDOs to make informed decisions regarding which technologies best suit the company.
A CDO’s duty does not end at implementation. A CDO must ensure the digital transformation meets business standards and achieves company goals.

3. Develop leadership abilities

The ability to lead is a crucial aspect of any C-suite-level position. Experience as a senior manager or director overseeing departments is an important background skill to have when wanting to evolve into a CDO.
Also, continuous learning in leadership skills does not hurt. It helps prevent burnout and promotes cultural awareness. After all, working in a C-suite level position in tech means you will oversee a diverse group of people from different backgrounds.
While many believe leadership abilities are something that comes naturally, honing this skill could still help you become a better leader

4. Apply digital data to decision-making

Making predictions based on collected data from AI and ML is transforming the way businesses forecast. In the past, organizations looked at past processes and outcomes to make predictions. Today, businesses need a forward-looking mentality which can be done by incorporating real-time data into forecasts.
A CDO plays an integral part when forecasting in today’s business sphere. After implementing disruptive technology, they are the go-to person to take the data acquired from digital technology and implement it into planning and decision-making. Helping make future financial decisions is crucial to a CDO’s success.

Chief Digital Officer Certificate Program at MIT Professional Education

An all-encompassing CDO training program certainly helps professionals reach their CDO role goals. MIT Professional Education offers a 12-month Chief Digital Officer Blended Professional Certificate to help professionals hone their skills to become successful CDOs.
In the comprehensive learning journey, you will acquire technical knowledge and develop the right mindset and leadership skills to lead transformation based on technology, data, and innovation. You will become part of the MIT community, the leading institution in the world for innovation and digital transformation.
After its successful completion, the certificate program will award you certificates in the following courses:

  • Leadership and Innovation
  • Digital Transformation: From AI and IoT to Cloud, Blockchain, and Cybersecurity
  • Blockchain: Disruptive Technologies
  • Digital Platforms: Designing Two-Sided Markets from APIs to Feature Roadmaps
  • Data Leadership

You will network with professionals from all over the world and learn from industry experts including Dr. Abel Sanchez, Dr. Bruce Cameron, Dr. David Niño, Prof. John R. Williams, and Prof. Olivier de Weck—all instructors at MIT Professional Education. Find out more about our programs at MIT Professional Education. Learn from MIT professionals and accelerate your career.

Clara Piloto
Director of Global Programs, Director of Digital Plus Programs
MIT Professional Education
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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