Does corporate culture need a digital makeover?

Chief digital officer head count rising fast globally, but not within Canadian companies 

The City of Vancouver's Jessie Adcock is one of the few chief digital officers in Canada | Photo: Chung Chow

Five years ago, a standard corporate strategy consisted of determining what products or services a business wanted to develop and how it would deliver them to customers, according to Peter Hughes.

Deloitte Digital Canada’s national leader for delivery and operations said using online, mobile or social media channels was one way to execute the strategy, but rarely the top priority.

“We’re at a major watershed moment where the digital strategy of an organization is fast becoming their corporate strategy,” Hughes said.

A May 2015 report from Deloitte, written by Hughes, determined the new digital strategy has led to restructuring at corporate levels. Job duties once shared – or fought over – by chief marketing officers and chief information officers have given way to a new entrant in the C-suite: the chief digital officer (CDO).

“[The CDO] is the steward of the channel,” Hughes told Business in Vancouver. “The person who needs to set the direction, establish the priorities and then drive it.”

According to a 2013 CDO Club report, there was just one CDO in the world in 2005. That figure was forecast to rise to 1,000 by 2014. And while CDOs are catching on in the U.S., Hughes said Canada is still trailing behind.

Rob Foley, who previously ushered in J.P. Morgan’s digital transformation during the past decade, moved from the U.S. to work as the CDO of West Vancouver’s fSquared Marketing.

His company focuses on strategic planning and development services across Canada, but Foley said he’s yet to encounter a CDO at any of the firms he works with.

While he said more Canadian firms will inevitably catch on, Foley doesn’t expect it to happen for another three to four years.

“We do see in Canada these chief digital officers at places like banks and big financial organizations, and then you’ll see it at startups,” Foley said. “But I don’t see it in the space we’re playing in right now.”

According to the Deloitte report, that’s in part because of the different types of CDOs hired in any given industry.

The first type is a CDO focused on interactive marketing at a company dealing with consumer goods. The second is focused on enterprise IT solutions in heavy industries like manufacturing or health care, and the third type of CDO is focused on full-blown digital transformations in sectors such as retail or banking.

The City of Vancouver – one of the few Canadian organizations to hire a CDO – falls into the latter category.  Prior to taking on the city’s newly created CDO position in 2013, Jessie Adcock worked in the telecom and banking industries developing e-commerce and online banking.

“That experience helped me understand how users use online services,” she told Business in Vancouver just a few hours after the city launched its VanConnect mobile app.

Instead of thumbing through a directory at home to contact the city, residents push a few buttons on their smartphones to report graffiti, file complaints about loud pets or request garbage cleanup on city property.

Adcock said the speed at which people are adopting smartphones has forced the city to change its digital outreach at a light-speed rate.

“We’re starting from really early days, and we have a lot of catching up to do,” she said. “I understand the interception of where marketing meets the operation meets technology, and digital is sort of the overlap area of those three.”

While the Deloitte report zeroes in on the increasing need of having a CDO if an organization is to stay relevant, digital will eventually become so infused with business “it will make no more sense to have a separate leader and separate team than it does now to have a chief email officer.”