The role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is the exec title du jour, surpassing the CIO as the go-to person for transformation of the enterprise. McKinsey considers this person the transformer-in-chief, even though this role is still quite nebulous.

The duties as well as the strategic importance of the CDO both depend upon the industry in question as well as the focus of the digital efforts. In particular, for retail organizations that have been struggling with ecommerce for several years now, the CDO often comes from the ranks of the ecommerce team, or more broadly, the interactive team.

For major brands, which may include retailers but also includes banks, consumer package goods companies, and other brand-centric enterprises, the CDO often comes from marketing, and in fact, the CMO and CDO may be the same person.

Less common – somewhat surprisingly given the technology connotation of the word ‘digital’ – is when the CDO is a techie. True, the role requires some level of technical chops, but in most cases, the CDOs tech cred is decidedly front-office.

Regardless of the CDO’s background, McKinsey is quite correct that the CDO must be responsible for driving transformation – and furthermore, that transformation must be customer-focused. Digital, after all, reflects the fact that customer preferences and behavior are driving enterprise technology decisions more than ever before. The CDO must ride – and hopefully guide – this wave.

Regardless of the background of the CDO – interactive, marketing, technology, or perhaps an operational role – the challenge all CDOs face is that they must lead a transformation effort that cuts across all such silos. As a result, regardless of who they are, they will be out of their element most of the time.

To bridge this gap, the enterprise architect (EA) can bring clarity to the CDO’s role in the organization. First and foremost, the EA should serve as a resource for cross-organizational best practices, whether they be organizational or technological.

In many cases, however, the CDO may not have had much reason to interact with EAs in the past, especially if they didn’t rise through the IT ranks. Marketers, after all, have traditionally had little reason to work with architects of any sort.

EAs, therefore, must be proactive. Waiting for the CDO to call and ask for their advice is the wrong approach. Instead, the chief EA should set up a meeting with a new CDO to introduce the role their team can play to support the transformative mission of the CDO.

The challenge for EAs, however, is that different CDOs will have different strengths and weaknesses, just as everyone does – and thus their greatest need will be in those areas they are weakest in.

If a CDO is a strong technologist, they may need more help understanding customer priorities and the marketing context for the digital effort. On the other hand, CDOs who have risen through the marketing ranks will need help with the technical aspects of the digital transformation.

This latter situation is the most likely – and given most EAs have technical backgrounds, will be the situation where the EA team can be of most assistance. There are several ways EAs can step up to this plate:

  • API and integration best practice –the CDO will need to understand how to leverage and incorporate existing software-based assets (both on-premise and in the cloud) as part of the digital effort, without getting lost in the technical details.
  • Data (especially big data) best practice – the digital effort will both drive the collection of large quantities of customer-related data, as well as leverage existing data collection, processing, and analysis capabilities. The EA should be well-positioned to help the digital and data teams work together, as well as to avoid fragmentation of the data.
  • Business process best practice – change management is an important enabler of digital transformation, but traditional change management approaches may not be up to the task of supporting the unique needs of the digital effort. The EA can facilitate a coordinated approach to change management, especially as it applies to other business and IT processes as they transform as well.
  • Strategic vision – CDOs have so many challenges on their plates that it may seem that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to take care of everything. The danger here is that the CDO as well as the rest of the overall digital effort will bog down in minutiae and lose its direction. The EAs are uniquely positioned to maintain a focus on the overall business strategy, and how it connects to the day-to-day responsibilities of the CDO and the digital team.

The Intellyx Take

The CDO may be the transformer-in-chief for the enterprise as a whole, but for most organizations, the enterprise architecture effort must also transform to serve the ongoing needs of the business. If the EAs are buried in the IT department, focusing on IT portfolio management or IT standards to the exclusion of more strategic business concerns, then they will be poorly suited to provide the assistance this article describes.

However, for EAs who have resolved these challenges, or in the more likely scenario, EAs who are struggling to resolve them, helping the CDO to drive the digital effort becomes both an ideal application of the EA’s unique strengths, as well as a foothold on the path out of the hole that some EAs find themselves in.

If you’re in such a hole – if you find that in spite of your EA title, nothing on your list of duties bears much resemblance to architecting an enterprise in transformation – then don’t wait for permission. Take the initiative to gain the digital skills you require to make a difference in your organization, and find a way to provide value to the CDO. You will be more valuable to your organization, your skills will be more current, and you’ll have more fun as well. What do you have to lose?

As an elastic integration platform as a service (iPaaS), SnapLogic can help organizations achieve their digital transformation goals by delivering real-time, event-driven application integration and big data integration for analytics in a single cloud integration and big data integration platform.

SnapLogic is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, no other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this article. Image credit: Garfield Anderssen.

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