September 1, 2020

Digital Acceleration: Who Should Be Responsible for Digital? CEO, CIO, CMO?

First published by Adrian Toy on Linkedin on 1 September 2020

I’m often asked where should digital report in an organisation – the CEO, CIO or CMO? A simple question as companies accelerate their digitisation efforts, but not one with a simple answer. I’ve experienced reporting to all three roles as I’ve led digital teams over the last 15 years, and the answer is “it depends on the company’s situation”.

Take the digital natives – such as Airbnb, Netflix, Uber, etc. This isn’t even a question as the organisation is digital savvy and the skills are embedded in every function. In ten years time, this probably won’t even be a debate, as organisations will be almost complete with their digital transformation.

In the meantime, non-digital native, businesses need to consider key factors such as digital maturity, culture & mindset, customer experience, reliance on technology and digital vision.

Wherever it sits – these are the three imperatives

Regardless of which department or C-suite the digital leader works under, there are a few important points to keep in mind.

If you’re currently thinking about this – here’s my experience on each option for consideration . . .

CMO – closest to the customer

The time it made sense to report to the CMO was when the business needed to focus on transforming their online customer experience. The CMO was the closest to the customer, understands the customer needs and had the vision of the ideal consumer journey. The other advantage was the marketing obsession of ensuring a consistent omnichannel brand experience across all touchpoints. However, the drawback is the inability to comprehend when solutions are highly technical or process driven in nature.

CIO – understands the evolving technology

When there was a need to build new platforms (eg. Mobile App), leverage new technologies (IOT, RPA, AI) or digitise internal processes, reporting to the CIO was an obvious choice. Since most of the heavy lifting has to be done by the technology department, the CIO was the one that can help navigate the complexities of developing and integrating new systems. Furthermore, the CIO was best placed to understand and drive innovation by leveraging the evolving technology. The downside was that in pursuit of technology the team may lose sight of what the customer really needs.

CEO – accelerates transformational change

Every CEO should be involved in leading the digital transformation, however it was most impactful either when the survival of the business depended on it or when the business was far behind competitors.

Reporting to the CEO heightened the importance of digital and accelerated the culture and mindset change required for an organisation to embrace the digital journey. While other benefits are to empower the digital team and provide faster decision-making, this is provided the CEO can devote enough time.

The digital team can thrive under any of the C-suite but it is most important to focus on the customer experience, collaborate with the organisation and be agile enough to adapt to the ever changing environment.