The most in demand digital executives

29 March 2019

The C-suite appears to be expanding daily with new and interesting job titles. Digital transformation is fast creating meaningful new executive tech roles in companies which are augmenting - or sometimes even replacing - their traditional counterparts. These roles are in constant high demand and are being fulfilled by ‘rising stars’ in organisations that have both the digital and leadership skills required.

Chief Digital Officer (CDO)

“The Architect”

The CDO is primarily responsible for being the executive board’s champion for digital process innovation across the entire organization. Every company is now a digital company, with various digital projects and processes on the go in what is fast becoming a ‘digital project portfolio’. This requires full-time management and immediate executive sign-off to keep up with the pace of change. In the past, digital strategists or managers may have reported directly to the likes of the CEO (Chief Executive Officer). However, CEOs do not always possess the technological skills to understand how to prioritize the organization’s digital strategy. Furthermore, CEOs and Founders may be too busy to attend to digital needs, which slows down the organisation’s competitive pace. This is where the CDO steps in, to advise the CEO and executive board on digital priorities. This person also has the executive authority to approve and implement change with their staff and teams.

The CDO is measured strictly against his/her ability to translate digital change into clearly measurable ROI on the bottom-line, and the CDO may work closely or be responsible to manage the other roles highlighted below. Developing and retaining top digital talent through mentorship is another key priority for the CDO.

Chief Marketing Technologist (CMT)

“The tech-savvy marketing guru”

You might already be familiar with the well-established role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), a highly technically skilled individual who typically leads teams of engineers, developers and other digital resources. The Chief Marketing Technologist’s role overlaps to a degree with a marketing focus and would typically report to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Depending on the organisation’s needs, the CMT might have equal standing with the CMO or even replace the CMO entirely. According to Harvard Business Review, Marketing is rapidly becoming one of the most technology-dependent functions in business. In 2012 the research and consulting firm Gartner predicted that by 2017, a company’s Chief Marketing Officer would be spending more on technology than its Chief Information Officer was. That oft-quoted claim seems more credible every day.

CMTs have a portfolio of responsibilities, including strategist, creative director, technology leader – and perhaps most importantly – teacher and mentor in driving technological change in the marketing department. To align technology with marketing and consumer strategy goals, the CMT has a challenging job in quantifying marketing objectives into measurable digital outcomes, and to become ‘best friends’ with IT to bring new digital strategies to life in practice through means of innovative new platforms, applications or processes. These execs champion greater experimentation and a more agile management of the marketing department’s capabilities, and may lock heads with the CIO on competing organizational objectives. CMTs are also responsible for sourcing the most appropriate resources and external creative or digital agencies – and to discern on the organisation’s behalf if the agency is delivering proper work.

Chief Information Officer (CIO)

“Not the IT Manager”

The CIO is a strategic senior resource less concerned with the IT department’s day-to-day operations and more focussed on implementing organisational digital strategy through change management, training and mentorship. The organisation’s IT manager(s) and CIO work closely together in this regard, with IT department managers raising observations for the CIO’s strategic attention for change. In companies where the IT department or digital functions are perceived as an overhead cost as opposed to value creation centres, the CIO tends to report to the CFO and results measured in cost savings. However, in organisations where digital strategy and resources are at the core of business strategy, the CIO often reports directly to the CEO with a seat on the executive board.

The CIO’s role is usually project based, identifying key strategies for the organisation to achieve its business goals through technology, with a sustainable change management and organisation-wide training plan to match. The CMT and CIO have overlapping roles in this regard, and the relationship between the two executive roles can either be an asset or a liability for the organisation should these key influential execs have competing agendas. CIOs are also tasked with compliance, cyber security and policy management. These are important priorities in a world where information is increasingly being regulated through for example the recently introduced Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). CIOs have to navigate the organisation’s compliance strategy pro-actively. Therefore, whilst IT managers are mostly busy ‘firefighting’ and reacting to daily needs, the CIO has capacity to think and work strategically. Many CIOs also step into their digital roles later in their careers, having legal degrees or backgrounds.

Chief Analytics Officer (CAO)

“Because big data needs a proper boss”.

The Economist could not have stated it better in their May 2017 cover that data is the new oil of the 21st century. With the explosion of data, companies are turning to professionals to better manage big data so to gain the best return from this valuable resource within the necessary compliance and legal frameworks. Interchangeably referred to as the Chief Data Officer or the Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), this exec heads up the organisation’s analytics and data division with a focus on unlocking value for the business and continuously finding new insights for other execs to incorporate into their strategies. The CAO is arguably one of the most significant catalysts for change in companies, identifying new trends or data in, for example, consumer behaviour that could alter not only digital strategies, but the entire business strategy. Many large organisations have multiple business leaders using data in various ways, with no dedicated role to connect them to leverage the data better, and to link them to the CDO’s organisational strategy.

Do you see a need for any of these executives in your organization? Kriel & Co frequently assumes the above executive roles on a temporary or consulting basis and advises on the hiring of full-time digital executives. Learn more at