A CDO should hardly be missing in any company, because in fact this position is the pioneer and driver of digitalisation – both of the company’s products and processes. At the same time, both digitalisation and the profession are undergoing such dynamic change that it means major innovation thrusts for companies to keep pace with this change.

Companies that not only want to observe a digital transformation, but even help shape it, need proactive forerunners in their own management floors who are not only professionally convincing, but also dare to create the necessary conditions for it and accompany its implementation. Digitalisation thus also represents a real career springboard for existing and aspiring CDOs for innovative and entrepreneurial managers.

The job description of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO)
According to a running gag, we do not owe the last digitalisation advance to a human innovator, but to the Corona pandemic. And indeed, the pandemic forced in particular the increased establishment of digital alternatives for communication and collaboration in the company as well as even more digital shop and delivery services or even digital qualification and event offers. Public institutions have also recognised the relevance of digitalisation since 2020 at the latest. The actual drivers of these digitalisation projects were the Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) long before.

The degree of challenge is not the same for all CDOs, because different industries result in different focuses. The financial industry, for example, has always worked only with data at its core and tends to view digitalisation only from a software perspective. With Industry 4.0, the manufacturing industry also faces greater hurdles in comprehensive digitisation in the area of networking, but the logistics and tourism sectors also have to digitise in order not to lose ground in international competition.

The tasks of the CDO
Despite the fact that the CDO has long been established as an important position in the company, the job of the CDO is still considered quite new even today. Furthermore, the position of the CDO did not get off to a good start, because in terms of responsibility, the CDO not only already competes with the CIO or CTO anyway, he even competes with himself, because he is double-named: In addition to the Chief Digital Officer, there is also the Chief Data Officer, who is still somewhat less common. But does this small difference in name matter?

The answer is yes and no. The CDO in the context of digital deals with the previously mentioned topics of digitalisation. Examples are: mobile applications, blockchain, Internet of Thing and cyber physical systems or their manifestations as networked end devices corresponding to concepts such as Industry 4.0, Smart Home, Smart Grid, Smart Car and many more. The individual building blocks of these concepts generate data, which in turn can be stored in databases.

Consequently, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer basically deal with different topics at their core. While the Chief Digital Officer deals with hardware and software in the context of contemporary digitisation projects and their organisational classification, the Chief Data Officer does so primarily in the context of data storage and analysis as well as data governance.

However, digital and data will always meet in the cycle of continuous improvement of product and process, especially in the design and analysis of the digital journey for employees, customers and partners and platform decisions such as cloud systems.

Chief Digital Officer in the job
Chief Digital Officers are mainly found in industrial sectors such as mechanical engineering, automation or process engineering. However, the finance, tourism and logistics sectors also rely on the digital variety of CDOs. Chief Data Officers are still more likely to be found in purely data-oriented companies without many hardware products, i.e. primarily in financial service providers. Only rarely are both positions filled within the company.

Those who want to take on the position of Chief Digital Officer must be prepared to fight resistance on the path to change. And not only in the general workforce, but also in the leadership’s own ranks. So in addition to professional aptitude, the power of persuasion and motivation to innovate also play a very important role here.

However, really good CDOs do not simply ensure that a company keeps up with digital issues, but also helps to shape them. Here, the wording is crucial: digitalisation switches from analogue to digital, just as a train ticket is now available digitally instead of as a printout that has to be stamped by the conductor. Digital transformation, on the other hand, goes much further and means changing entire business processes, such as buying a ticket online and checking in with a mobile device at the train seat. Only this transformation is the actual goal of a good CDO, but it also means – as the name suggests – a lot of willingness to change.

Education/training and salary
CDOs are part of the top management of a company and should also have very specific hard skills. Hard skill requirements vary from industry to industry and company to company, but an academic background in computer science, engineering or science is very beneficial. Even if a CDO is more manager than technician, the principle that the CDO understands his or her employees technically still applies.

The salary of a CDO moves with the company itself. It starts at around 80,000 euros a year gross in smaller companies, up to over a million euros in corporations.

The career jump to CDO usually takes place internally through advancement via the establishment of one’s own reputation through successful implementation of projects in the context of digitalisation and via credible expertise of a technical nature as well as the management of projects and resources. Another entry point for CDOs, on the other hand, was a long career in tech-savvy management consulting.

Not a job by the book
Chief Digital Officers deal with innovation issues and implement them for their company. Consequently, they are also change managers. CDOs must by no means be comfortable fair-weather managers, but must drive change in the company, confront obstacles and question existing processes and products. The creation and use of digital products and processes in one’s own company as well as with customers and suppliers in turn generates data en masse. The cycle between digital and data drives permanent change, which the CDO must make positively usable for the company and in doing so can always create new career perspectives for himself and his employees.

Whether Digital or Data, CDO is CDO
Often, companies do not differentiate so precisely between Chief Digital and Chief Data Officer and consider both designations as a single position responsible for both Digital and Data. For most users, however, the trendy Digital sounds much more appealing than the sober Data, so the naming of the position may lean more towards Chief Digital Officer.

Nevertheless, Digital topics can be easily separated from Data topics and are to be classified strategically differently. Therefore, companies need not only a digital strategy but also a data strategy – but as already indicated, CDOs can take on both roles and feel responsible for both strategies.

The joint responsibility of digital and data can even enable particularly consistent decisions as a beneficial side effect and thus combine typical digital topics such as blockchain or RPA with typical data topics such as audit data analyses or process mining.

A Chief Digital Officer with comprehensive responsibility does not leave out the topic of data utilisation and understands architectures for business intelligence and machine learning. In order to do justice to his personnel responsibility, he must be familiar with these topics and be able to talk to experts in digital and data at eye level. Every CDO should know what, for example, a data engineer or data scientist must be able to do, how to understand business experts and how to convince boards of directors – because as innovators, drivers and game changers, good CDOs fear nothing but stagnation.