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Published 02 August 2012 05:01, Updated 09 August 2012 04:15
Columbia University in New York has just appointed one. So has Brisbane City Council. When it comes to human resources trends, the chief digital officer position has established itself as the flavour of the month.
But what does the title mean? And does your company need one?
The chief digital officer’s role seems to vary widely between organisations.
“Every company structures the position differently,” recruitment firm Heidrick and Struggles partner Meg Ambrose says. “Sometimes they put [the chief digital officer] in the tech department, sometimes in marketing, sometimes in finance and sometimes between the two.”
Executive recruiter Korn/Ferry senior client partner Lynne Nixon agrees.
“The role is growing and has been for the last three or four years … and there’s no cookie cutter approach,” she says.
“But we tend to see the position come up in consumer-focused organisations looking for great connectivity between what the customer receives and [the company’s] use of technology.”
Nixon and Ambrose both agree that in its most practical terms, a chief digital officer will be appointed to improve a company’s command of digital infrastructure and the way in which it connects with its clients and consumers, whether it be through smart phones, social media or other digital initiatives.
Columbia University appointed its first chief digital officer, Sreenath Sreenivasan, in early July. He has been enlisted to improve the delivery of the university’s courses and other education initiatives by web.
“The goal is to ensure that we deploy new tools and technologies in interactive and distance learning to ensure the richest and most dynamic learning environment possible for Columbia’s students,” provost John Coatsworth said in the university’s announcement of the appointment.
Sreenivasan previously worked as a professor and dean in the university’s journalism school, where he also lectured on digital journalism and social media.
He was named by influential American advertising industry magazine AdAge as one of the 25 media people to follow on Twitter and Newsweek’s list of the 20 most influential South Asians in America.
But a chief digital officer is not just for the multinationals.
“A [chief digital officer] could find themselves working between technology and marketing to find ways the customer wants to communicate, or they could be [responsible for] uniting and integrating distribution channels under the one [digital] platform,” Heidrick & Struggles’ Ambrose says.
“Or it might be about collecting supply chain data and putting trackers on freight so customers have all that data … it’s about interconnectivity.”
Brisbane City Council also appointed its first chief digital officer in early July.
Irish import Kieran O’Hea led the online strategy for the European Commission and Tourism Ireland
before being brought in to boost economic development among small businesses operating out of Brisbane through a better understanding of technology.
“The motto is less gadgetry and more strategy,” Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk says. “We know there is a gap between the IT and technology that people have and maximising the use
of that equipment to benefit their business.”
He uses the example of a Brisbane bakery that boosted sales considerably with the help of a Facebook campaign that uploaded images of new products each day.
O’Hea sits within the city council’s marketing department and has been instructed to spearhead initiatives that teach Brisbane business owners how to engage more effectively with the technology and digital opportunities they have within grasp.
O’Hea is also responsible for designing digital strategies that boost the visibility of Brisbane businesses and their products and services.
His appointment came after a three-month search.
And as for whether your company needs a chief digital officer, Meg Ambrose isn’t so sure.
“For companies with only a handful of customers, I wouldn’t say [the position] is as important,” she says.
Lynne Nixon believes that a dedicated chief digital officer may not be appropriate for small businesses.
“In small organisations, the chief executive would have [the role] as a big part of their remit,” she says.
“There wouldn’t necessarily be a need for the CDO to be separate to the rest of their business.”