Insights from the Gerard School of Business and the School of Science and Engineering

Chief digital officer (CDO) is a relatively new executive position that has become a priority for companies that want to use data in the most powerful ways possible. A CDO focuses on leveraging data to transition and improve business operations using digital processes.

The CDO job may be known by another title and the job duties can vary, but the bottom-line idea is to place someone in charge of transitioning businesses into the digital world. That’s a key requirement for businesses that want to stay competitive in a global environment.

It’s also another possible career for those who earn an online master’s degree in data science.

Chief Digital Officer Job Duties

CIO magazine reported that chief digital officer might “displace data scientist as the sexiest job.” But it’s also a job that a skilled data scientist can take on. For businesses, it’s a must if they want their strategy supported by data-driven decision making. It’s also key to finding methods of making existing operations more efficient and profitable. The online magazine lists six responsibilities most CDOs handle.

Link digital capabilities to strategic priorities. Executives will accept digital innovation faster if its directly linked to accomplishing strategic goals.

Sponsor digital process innovation. The CDO has the opportunity to both advocate and teach the potential of digital capabilities to other executives.

Develop and administer the digital project portfolio. Monitoring “often-heterogeneous” digital projects is critical to success.

Measuring the impact of digital projects. Monitoring and reporting on the ROI of digital projects, setting standards for success.

Attract and retain talent. In the current job market, this is a competitive area. Smart CDOs have a strategy for recruiting and keeping workers with the skills that support the overall strategic vision.

Be the “executive intermediary.” Essentially, the CDO is the ambassador of all things digital to executives.

Differences with CIO

The CDO position might seem like the chief information officer (CIO) position. However, a CDO doesn’t have to be an expert on IT implementation. Rather, they are focused on how to use innovative technology to drive positive change within an organization.

In that sense, they are more change managers than technology workers. While a CIO oversees the technology infrastructure for a business, a CDO blends skills in data science with that of business leadership. This includes strong communication and presentation skills. A CDO is often in the position of convincing decision-makers to follow a new, data-driven strategy. Because that involves concepts that are new, a CDO must have the ability to clearly explain the return on investment and strategic reasoning behind a digital strategy.

It’s possible that in some cases, the CIO might morph into the CDO position.

What’s Driving The Change

Schools such as Merrimack College provide a data science education that is rooted in real-world applications. That’s because the school invites input into the curriculum from industry leaders. Both these leaders and Merrimack College are aware of the changes that are driving the need for chief digital officers.

Competition is one of the main drivers. While many industries and businesses have been slower to adapt digital-driven models, the time will come when they must do so to keep up with the competition.

Data-driven strategies are going to be the norm in all businesses across all industries. Data scientists acquire the skills to excel in this new and evolving era. For those who wish to blend their technical skills with leadership, earning a graduate degree sets them up for success as a chief digital officer.