More and more organizations are adding more and more CXOs.  Now, as well as chief information Officers, we have Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Digital Officers, and Chief Marketing Officers all of whom have some level of responsibility for organization’s digital strategy. One is reminded of the old adage — too many cooks spoil the broth. Why is this plague of CxO’s being visited upon us?


For many organizations, the appointment of a Chief Digital Officer or the mandating of a Chief Marketing Officer arises from a dissatisfaction with the results being achieved by the Chief Information Officer.  When CEOs perceive that their CIOs are unable to drive the organization forward, they will find someone else to do the job.  The CIO is kept on but relegated to the role of plumber – keeping the existing works functioning.  Forward momentum is now expected from another CxO.


While it is easy to lay the blame for failure to achieve digital transformation at the door of the CIO, it is often unfair.  Rarely, if ever, are CIOs in position to drive the entire organization.  They do not control the day to day business functions.  They do not command the obedience of other business leaders. Digital transformation can only be achieved by the collaboration of numerous executives and their departments.  But the fault falls on the CIO.  And some CIOs have themselves to blame.  Many CIOs, imbibing the words of the IT press and dubious consultancies, position themselves as the person in control whenever any mention of technology arises.  They insist that they must have the authority.  By taking the authority, they take the responsibility for failure.  Combined with this are CIOs who do not speak the language of the business.  They can talk technology but either they do not fully understand the entire organization or, if they do, they are unable to articulate that understanding in a fashion meaningful to others at the leadership table.  The result is a person who portrays themselves as an organization leader yet is unable to lead the organization.  It is no wonder that the CEO turns to another to bring about needed change.


This act of assigning authority to another leader is doomed from the start.  While it is possible to have some short term successes on the website and social media, real digital transformation requires an organization to reach deep into its technology architecture and, often, make massive change.  The CDO may be better able to articulate a digital future in business terms but they are less likely to be able to grapple with the complexity of the legacy of technology infrastructure that the organization has built up.  The responsibility for that is usually left with the CIO.  So now, instead of one leader accountable for digital transformation, two competing individuals are in place, both of whom profit from the other’s failure in organizational politics.


Proliferation of Chefs is never the right answer.  If the existing CIO is not capable of moving the organization forward then they should be replaced, not sidelined.  If it is a lack of skills, then training, mentoring and support are required.  If the organization is entrenched to prevent change then the organization must be restructured.  Incentives must be aligned so that all departmental leaders support the organizational strategy.


The right leader, be they CIO, CDO, CMO, COO, CFO or CEO must be able to articulate the business value that is to be created by digital transformation and lead toward that value, not toward the technology.  Strong technical leadership must be in place to support the effort but organizations must not confuse technical expertise with business acumen.  Don’t add more chiefs!  Hire, and cultivate, the right leader and align the others around them.


Rob Collins

July, 2017