When I hear the phrase “digital expert”, I’ll be honest—I’m left scratching my head. In this context, what is “digital”, and how can you be an expert in it? You can be an expert in marketing, finance, technology or operations/logistics, but how can you be an expert in ‘digital’?

It would seem that the word has taken on a meaning that is both more specific and more broad than was originally intended. Many companies now have a position that could be described as a Chief Digital Officer—occasionally known as a Chief Technology Officer, or even Chief Information Officer. Whatever the title, more companies are making space for someone within the organization whose job it is to create and manage the companies’ entire digital strategy.  Strategy + Business’ 2016 survey shows that 19% of the world’s 2,500 largest public companies have designated an executive to lead their digital agenda. This number grew from just 6% in their 2015 survey results. Furthermore, sixty percent of the digital leaders identified in the 2016 study have been appointed since 2015, meaning that the upward trend is gaining momentum.

What is a Chief Digital Officer Anyway?

Janco Associates gives the definition of a Chief Digital Officer as someone who “helps a company drive growth by converting traditional “analog” businesses to digital ones, and over sees operations in the rapidly changing digital sectors as such blockchain, data security, data analytics/CRM social media and related applications, e-commerce and more” Furthermore, the CDO is responsible for “the adoption of digital technologies across the entire business” and “digital consumer experiences across the entire enterprise“.

So, the role of a CDO is multi-faceted—they are in charge of bringing the entire internal organization in line with a single digital strategy, possibly involving updating legacy systems and converting manual processes to digital ones, but also for managing the customer’s experience  and the many touchpoints that customers interact with businesses. Fair enough, but how does that differ from the role of Chief Operating Officer?

What Does “Digital” Encompass in an Organization?

If a Chief Digital Officer directs the digital strategy, then what is “digital”? This is where the word blurs the lines between so many different levels of business practices that it almost loses its usefulness. A company’s digital strategy encompasses their legacy IT systems,   social media channels, websites, apps, accounting/financial solutions, customer analytics, data security, customer experience and etc.  In essence, we are talking about every facet of companies operation –  from the front of the house customer facing processes/systems to back of the house processes/systems all intended to improve the customer experience, eliminate friction, protect customer privacy while reducing cost to increase margins.

So, Can You Be a Digital Expert?

The short answer, I believe, is no. “Digital” encompasses too many specific functions and skills for anyone to be considered a true expert in all. After all, it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that ‘digital’ is everything in your company that happens with the assistance of technology.  However, creating a corporate culture that is based on process improvement and using the latest advances in technology to assist in achieving your goals seems more appropriate than assigning the task to just one individual.  If you believe in the power of multiplication over addition, then why not engage your entire organization in your digital transformation and let the collective wisdom of your employees be the guiding light that moves your company into the digital age. One person shouldn’t get all the credit.

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