Is there a lack of digital leadership in the world’s biggest firms?


Definitions of exactly what constitutes ‘digital’ can vary according to company, sector and individual. For some it is to do with technology, for others it means a new way of engaging and communicating with customers, suppliers, partners and more. Some companies consider it a whole new approach to doing business.

Digital can and should change the very DNA of many organisations. And most people can agree on the overall importance of digital and the need for digital transformation in many companies that were founded before the digital era started.

Digital is a massive part of almost everything that consumers and businesses do. People use digital tools to shop, bank and communicate, and more often than not, their behaviour is far in advance of a brand’s own ability to innovate.

>See also: The right side of disruption: why digital transformation is the new kingmaker

Given this importance, one might think that the world’s biggest firms would be prioritising digital above almost everything else in their business. Many of them certainly talk this way, but the reality is that for too many, digital is still just a box to tick before moving on to the next one.

Digital projects lack clarity and leadership, so why is this and how can it be addressed?

Digital vision

Much as many organisations speak publically about the importance of digital transformation, and many CEOs personally have a digital vision for their company, the reality is that few companies are making quick progressing with digital transformation.

It is a highly complex process and many organisations are just not integrated digitally. The digital team (or teams) are often siloed and don’t always have input into the overall strategy or direction of a company or its products and services. A significant part of this can be put down to the lack of digital leaders in these businesses.

Recent research by PeopleTECH into FTSE 100 companies found a worrying lack of digital leaders across many sectors and industries.

Just 2% of FTSE firms have a chief digital office (CDO) on their board. One in 20 has a CDO on the senior management team, while a further 11% have a senior digital employee listed elsewhere on their website.

This means that more than 80% of FTSE 100 firms do not have someone visibly heading digital and giving it the direction and focus it requires to work.

Without such an individual, what tends to happen is that digital crops up in siloes all across the business.

There may be a digital marketing team, someone working in digital customer experience (CX), an IT team with a remit to drive digital adoption, and other isolated digital teams – all unintegrated and far less effective than they could be.

Smart digital transformation will focus across the entire business, not merely placing it in its own silo. Transformation is a term that indicates enormous change and for this to work it requires a collective effort and someone to coordinate and focus that effort.

This has given rise to the CDO. If a company is digital in its very nature, there is far less need for one – given that digital already informs the business to a large degree. But generally speaking, only much younger companies are that advanced, so a CDO becomes one of the most important roles in the entire organisation.

>See also: 4 intelligent elements of successful digital transformation

The importance of the CDO

But what is behind so many big firms not having such a role? Perhaps it is reluctance to increase the size of the operating board – the CEO or chair feel that digital is a responsibility that can be picked up and managed by the CMO or CIO.

However, that it is mostly down to a lack of true focus on digital, despite what may be said externally.

Digital transformation is such a major undertaking, but too many believe it to be a task that is to be completed, when in reality it is an on-process of change that that will continue to evolve.

There is no blueprint for universal success in digital transformation and some companies will find it an easier journey than others.

But it stands to reason that without someone to work with the rest of the board – defining and delivering a digital vision for the company, and integrating it across the entire organisation – it is hard to imagine many firms being successful.


Sourced from Mike Hughes, MD, PeopleTECH

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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