by Edward Qualtrough

CDO role slow to gain traction in UK, CIO 100 suggests

Apr 03, 20145 mins
IT Leadership

The CDO role has yet to fully gain traction in the UK with chief information officers generally assuming digital leadership at their organisation, while CIOs are almost entirely in control of IT spend, further rubbishing the already discredited assertion made by analyst house Gartner in 2012 about chief marketing officers taking control of technology budgets.

Those are some of the insights drawn from the 2014 CIO 100, which recognised Nissan’s Stephen Kneebone, Financial Times CIO Christina Scott and Telefonica global CIO Phil Jordan as three of the leading UK technology executives driving business transformation in the last year.

However, while responses to the CIO UK questionnaire revealed the head of the technology function was predominantly the digital leader at their organisation and in control of IT spend, this magazine’s columnists and CIO judges warned about the dangers of believing the CIO is driving much change in the digital sphere, and questioning what ‘digital’ really means.

Asked whether there was a separate digital leader in the CIO 100 questionnaire, 36% responded that there wasn’t one while a further 22% expressly said it was themselves fulfilling the digital role.

Some 12% said that there was a separate digital chief who was reporting in to the CIO, with another 12% responding simply that were was a separate digital leader at their organisation.

The CIO and the chief marketing officer or head of user experience combined to control digital responsibility at 8% of organisations, while 6% said that it was shared among the entire C-suite, and 4% offered a different miscellaneous response, including that it was an emerging function that was being investigated.

Truly digital?

Ade McCormack, a CIO UK columnist and judge said that the findings slightly dampen the buzz around the digital role.

“The numbers suggest that the CDO and the loss of technology control by the CIO are heavily overplayed.

“I think it is very early days for the CDO but it does seem to have traction in the US so perhaps it is just a matter of time.”

Jerry Fishenden, the former NHS IT director and government adviser, said that for a CIO to be involved in digital technology they need to be truly changing their organisation rather than just updating their own personal branding.

“There’s a danger that ‘digital’ becomes as meaningless as CIO did in many organisations – just a more fancy title for the IT manager,” Fishenden said. “We know the distinction is in the role, not the title – but far too many CIOs seem to be operating in a box to one side of the organisation, tinkering with tech and rubber-stamping contracts with the same old suppliers, rather than helping re-shape and re-engineer their organisations.

“It would also be useful to know what role is actually performed by some of the new CDOs; I am getting the impression that some are using CDO not as a transformational agent, but itself merely as a new fancy title for the ‘webmaster’ in the same way CIO was used by many as a rebranding of the old IT manager.

“It also doesn’t make much sense to me for a CDO to report to a CIO if a chief digital officer is really performing the role they’re meant to do.”


Asked about who controlled the IT budget, 84% responded that this was completely controlled by the CIO. Joint operating budgets with marketing or digital departments, and a separate digital budget made up 15% of responses – while one respondent said that ‘shadow IT’ was responsible for 15% of their IT spend.

This goes against the findings of the infamous 2012 Gartner ‘study’ that claimed CMOs will spend more on IT than the CIO by 2017. This claim has already been covered by CIO UK columnists Ian Cox and Matt Ballantine in their own personal blogs; but to surmise the former CIOs discovered that the Gartner assertion concerned only the marketing departments at a small number of large technology companies spending money on pay-per-click campaigns and Google AdWords.

While this reality was expressed by a number of respondents in our survey, it is probably best surmised by the CIO at Virgin Active, Andy Caddy. He said:

“My role encompasses the digital journey, including the customer experience online, the mobile apps and the in-club screens and kiosks – I am responsible for digital strategy globally and work with the in-country CMOs on establishing how to implement it. In the current climate you could label my job CDO, but it’s still not a widely recognised term.

“Technology spend is 100% under my remit. Some local digital spend sits within marketing, but this is traditional advertising such as PPC and display ads, etc.”

Understanding the difference between digital and IT

McCormack warned that the figures revealed by the CIO 100 may not be the reality, however, with digital spend possibly accounting for more than our survey suggests.

“Many CIOs could be in denial,” the digital strategist said, “and have perhaps chosen to interpret IT spend as relating to office productivity tools and enterprise applications.”

While, then, the CIO 100 paints a relatively positive picture about the CIO role, McCormack echoed the comments of Fishenden that there was a danger of “misguiding CIOs in respect of good practice and in turn steering the IT industry into operational obsolescence by in effect saying ‘keep up the good IT manager’ work”.

Cox also noted that while CIOs have digital responsibility, there were not as many digitally disruptive programmes in the CIO questionnaires that suggested a shift to digital thinking had truly taken place.

“Given how many CIOs say they are responsible for digital in one way or another,” Cox said, “there were few submissions that talked about truly digital projects, achievements or transformations.

“One possibility is that some CIOs, and perhaps their businesses, do not really understand digital and are just treating it as an extension of traditional IT.”