Evolution of the Chief Digital Officer Role

By Mick Naughton

Jan 26, 2022

This is a follow up to Mick Naughton’s July 28blog “Evolution of the Sales Operations Function

The role of “Chief Digital Officer” (CDO) first started showing up in the early 2010s. In 2012 Gartner said it was the next “hot executive title.” The analyst firm predicted that by 2015, 25% of all organizations would have a Chief Digital Officer. The vision initially was to be a “change agent,” someone who would set the strategic direction of the organization by converting traditional “analog” businesses into digital ones, using rapidly changing platforms in mobile technology, social media and eCommerce/web channels. And some of that took place despite the inherent challenges of such a role.

“The Chief Data Officer can be a thankless role. That’s in part because it can be defined as up to seven different jobs, which is obviously too many for one person.”

Randy Bean, chief executive officer of NewVantage Partners

Heidi Landford (CDO, Fitch Group) wrote that in the early days, while the idea for a CDO was one around strategic change it was often characterized as being a more defensive position: Chief Data Cleanser, Chief Data Governance Officer or Chief Data Gatherer. The job in the early days was more about identifying the sources of data, securing it and then letting data scientists go to work on it the best they could (with varying levels of success).

While they may not have fulfilled the vision of what a CDO could bring to organizations, those data managements steps were key to evolving the role into one that more closely matches its original intent. CDOs now have the opportunity to start altering the initial defensive playbook and take over in a more offensive role by extracting value from the data through analytics. Gartner’s Mario Faria summed it up well in saying we are currently moving to a version 4.0 of the CDO role:

  • CDO 1.0 was focused exclusively in data management
  • CDO 2.0 started to embrace analytics
  • CDO 3.0 led and participated quite heavily in digital transformation
  • CDO 4.0 is focused on products, and on managing profit and loss instead of just being responsible for driving D&A projects and programs

If reaching CDO 4.0 is the goal, there seem to be two dominant characteristics needed, the ability to deliver value quickly and predicting where the next digital opportunities exist.

“Deliver something of value to the sales and marketing team next week not next year. Build on that value incrementally. Pointing to specific instances in which the data and analytics teams helped sales grow the business is a very powerful message. It helps establish the business critical value of data in a concrete way.”

Chris Bergh, CEO of DataKitchen

While we might be biased, nothing delivers more direct value to an organization’s bottom line than improved margins and revenue. Zilliant has been at the forefront of the B2B pricing and sales optimization space for more than 20 years. Our solutions use AI/ML to literally translate your organizations data into measurable, repeatable actions with an ROI that is nearly impossible to beat. There are a few options in the price optimization and management (PO&M) space, but IDC has consistently recognized Zilliant as not only a leader in the space, but has highlighted our rapid return on investment as a key strength to our offering.

Read: 2021 IDC MarketScape for B2B Price Optimization and Management Applications

If delivering rapid value is seen as the first characteristic in CDO 4.0, the second attribute is focused on a longer-term vision. A CDO needs to remain plugged into the ever-changing landscape of technology and how it can be leveraged to create meaningful competitive advantages for your organization.

“Prioritizing digital above all else, the CDO has to not only analyze and understand patterns in online customer experience data, but to also be able to predict future trends and get ahead of any issues that could lead to poor experiences and harm their business’ bottom line.”

Efrat Ravid, CMO of Monument

There are certainly many ways to remain current in the digital space. Among these are working with consulting teams, getting plugged into industry groups, and finding solid long-term technology partners that can leverage their experience and innovation to share best practices and the “art of the possible” with your business.

Zilliant works with some of the top industry leaders within the B2B space across dozens of verticals. We have analyzed patterns and trends across billions of transactions within these domains. Our evolving platform is informed by the needs of some of the most competitive forward-thinking businesses in the world. The aggregate of this experience allows us to uncover hidden revenue and profit opportunities typically unseen by those within your own organization and have the tools to drive your organization into action. Our mission is to always stay ahead of the curve and share those insights and capabilities with our clients.

Read: Global B2B Industry Benchmark Report


If you are feeling the pressure to evolve into CDO 4.0, that’s to be expected, because what’s certain is that CDO 5.0 is coming soon and with it will be all of the skills and focus that the earlier evolutions brought with it. Zilliant has been part of the digital transformation world before CDOs roamed the corporate landscape. Whether it’s the next version of the CDO role or whatever is the hot new executive title challenged with creating value, Zilliant will be here evolving our platform to make our clients profitable and successful using cutting edge technology.

If you’re interested in how Zilliant can help your company evolve send me an email at michael.naughton@Zilliant.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.   

About the Author

Mick Naughton, M.S., MBA, is a sales director at Zilliant where he helps global B2B companies realize improved financial performance using advanced technology. Prior to joining Zilliant Mick spent 20 years in the life sciences industry in a variety of pricing, sales and technology roles.

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