The chief digital officer position isn’t all that new, but it’s new enough to me to want to get a better sense of what the role is all about. Hence my recent conversation with Anna Frazzetto.
Frazzetto is chief digital technology officer and global IT solutions and outsourcing strategist for Harvey Nash, a UK-based tech recruitment and outsourcing services provider. Although her official title includes the “technology” modifier, Frazzetto said it’s essentially a CDO role, making her the first CDO in the history of Harvey Nash. I opened the conversation by asking her for her definition of “chief digital officer,” and she said it’s all about transforming an organization:
How I moved into the role was by having other organizations come to me, or to Harvey Nash, for advice and guidance on how you transform an organization in this day and age, when digital and social media are such a critical component in how you communicate with your clients and your user community. The amount of high touch today is tremendous, versus what it was 10 years ago, or even two years ago, because it keeps evolving year after year. So for me personally, I view the definition as someone who is involved in the transformation of an organization from an older way of conducting business to a more current way of conducting business, where you utilize such tools as social media and mobile platforms for the high touch that you need to have with your client base.
Frazzetto explained how that role, and her concurrent role as global IT solutions and outsourcing strategist, are complementary:
I think there used to be a philosophy that outsourcing was really meant for big companies—the Fortune 500. But the reality is, outsourcing is playing more of a key role in the SMB sector. This is where I feel like it goes hand in hand—you need a digital strategy regardless of what size company you are, and outsourcing is such a great way for an organization to get to market faster, and get that competitive advantage. So I think they’re married in a strong way.
There also used to be a school of thought that as a chief digital officer, you had to be in a certain size company—small companies would not need to have a chief digital officer. I disagree, because if you look at the role, this is really going to be the critical role that’s going to give the organization a competitive advantage, regardless of what industry you’re in. So I do feel it’s a critical component of a company’s fabric.
I asked Frazzetto what qualities she would be looking for if she were recruiting a CDO for a midmarket company. She said she would break it up into a couple of different categories:
One, I would take a look at what technology background they have. I do think there is value in a chief digital officer not only having a business background, but also having some technical path in their past, so there’s a better comprehension of technology overall. The other element, which I always feel is so critical, is the cultural fit within an organization. I think one thing that is going to be particularly necessary for this role, since they are going to be responsible for transformation, and for being a change agent for a company, is culturally, will this person be able to move the company?
Finally, I asked Frazzetto whether the CDO or the CIO is on a faster track to the CEO suite. She said that’s the $64 million question:
I think it really depends on the individual. If you have a CIO who comes from a business background and not just technology, and is just as current from a marketing demand perspective, and the CDO is similar, I think you can flip a coin, because their skill sets somewhat match. If we were to take a CIO who is what we would have seen more traditionally 10 years ago, then I would say the CDO was probably on a faster track.
Frazzetto also shared some enlightening insights on her experience as a female in a high-profile technology role. I’ll cover that topic in a forthcoming post.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.