Is the Chief Digital Officer a blocker to change?

26 Jul 2019

Is the Chief Digital Officer a blocker to change?

Jennifer Creevy

Retail is always a game of balance – am I looking after my customers today? And am I looking after my customers of tomorrow?

This balancing act is nothing new for retailers, but it has become a lot more challenging over the past couple of years. The macro situation has meant that retailers are facing into some of the strongest headwinds they have ever known, while technology continues to develop at a rate previously unseen.

There are so many immediate challenges to deal with that makes it very difficult for retailers to focus on tomorrow, but they are also aware it is essential to stay relevant.

Getting staff to focus on working for today, tomorrow and the future is a continual challenge for leaders. One chief executive described it recently as moving people from ‘unconscious incompetents’ to ‘conscious incompetents’ – while this may sound harsh, once staff get to the second stage they realise the case for change. If you create a burning platform for your staff, the good ones will get there.

While creating the right culture and bringing your staff along with you is a journey, leaders’ awareness that they can’t enact change fast enough alone has grown. They are the masters of their own business, but for a multitude of reasons, these businesses often can’t move quick enough on their own. The acknowledgement of the need to reach out to partners who can help them get there faster has increased.

Partnerships of course aren’t a panacea. So much of the change that businesses need to make must happen internally, but instead of trying to do everything, working out what you’re good at and sticking to that is the first step. Then outsourcing or partnering for the rest adds to that strength.

Many retailers have for several years fought to become as much tech company as retailer. And there have been huge successes coming out of these tech and digital departments. But apart from a handful of exceptions, retailers will struggle to compete with the big tech companies and often a quicker, even cost-effective way of achieving growth is to partner with companies that can bring skills at speed.

Developing an eco-system whereby a retailer pulls in partners and start-ups to help it on its journey is front of mind now for more leaders. Yet what is interesting then is that some leaders have told us that the Chief Digital Officers – those charged with the transformation of a business – are often the blockers to partnerships. While the CEO and CFO are more often than not on board with partnering with businesses or start-ups to deliver growth faster, the CDO is more reluctant.

Perhaps the CDO feels that it is their job to build the digital empire themselves, to build a mini Silicon Valley within their own four walls, become a tech company outright. Or perhaps they feel their job will be obsolete if partners are taking certain elements off their hands.

Partnerships clearly aren’t right for everything. But maintaining an open mind about everything is. The move from ‘unconscious incompetent’ to ‘conscious incompetent’ is happening, and the awakening is spreading.


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