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Chief Digital Officers Continue Global Explosion

Number of CDOs worldwide will double this year to 2,000

The chief digital officer (CDO) role emerged alongside the digital transformation, and companies are rapidly making room for the position. In a report released in May 2015, The CDO Club estimated that the number of CDOs worldwide would double between 2014 and 2015, from 1,000 to 2,000. This was more than four times that of the 488 registered in 2013, and almost 800% more than 2012’s 225.

Number of Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) Worldwide, 2005-2015

The analysis found that the CDO role was spreading globally. While North America boasted 88% of CDOs worldwide in 2013, its share dropped to 68% last year. This was due largely to a surge in Europe, which expanded its proportion from 7% to 23%. Asia-Pacific was up slightly, from 4% to 6% of CDOs globally, while India and the Middle East rose from 1% to 2% and Latin America joined the playing field with the remaining 1%.

CDOs were most common in the advertising industry, which accounted for 36% of the total last year. The media, publishing, nonprofit and retail sectors rounded out the top five. While other industries grabbed smaller shares, there was a good mix, indicating that the CDO role isn’t limited to a small group of sectors.

Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) Worldwide, by Industry, 2014 (% of total)

Other research also suggests that more companies are relying on CDOs—or similar professionals—to navigate the digital landscape. When a January 2015 study by Accenture asked executives worldwide about their progress in leveraging digital governance and decision-making, 80% of respondents said they had a CDO or comparable role to oversee the use of digital technologies.

Such professionals will have to bring a positive attitude to the table along with strong leadership skills, based on a February 2015 study from Gap International conducted by Nielsen and Harris Interactive. When asked which personal attributes accounted for the success of great business leadership, US corporate executives were most likely to cite mindset/attitude (34%) and people skills/team building (31%).

As digital only gets bigger, companies around the world will rely on CDOs to guide them through the continuous transformation. Those that don’t risk falling behind.

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