Stefano Maifreni, founder of Eggcelerate
You can tell the business world’s direction by the new roles that start to pop up in the C-Suite. With titles like chief transformation officer, chief change officer, and digital transformation officer, it’s clear what’s on a business leader’s mind these days. Each of these roles is a response to rapidly changing market and customer trends and an avalanche of technological advances that are causing businesses to rethink the way they operate.
In this article, however, we’re going to take a closer look at the Digital Transformation Officer (DTO). This professional is specifically focused on an organisation’s digital strategy and transformation.
Not every company needs to hire someone for this position, however. Sometimes it’s better to get every senior officer involved and lead the company’s digital transformation as a team.
To help you decide whether to bring in a DTO, we’ll offer some points to consider below.
What is a DTO, and What Do They Do?
Today, an organisation’s success and long-term sustainability heavily depend on its digital infrastructure combined with a data-driven culture. Smart, automated IT systems enable critical modern business capabilities such as personalisation, adaptability, and innovation. A data-driven culture then leverages the business and market data captured and analysed by these systems to guide business decision making at all levels of the organisation.
Even technology-based businesses, such as fintech companies and SaaS providers, don’t always have the most effective and efficient digital infrastructure in place. Moreover, establishing a well-oiled data-driven culture takes much time, research, and consideration.
It is where a DTO comes in. A DTO is a member of a company’s senior management team. They are responsible for leading a business’s digital transformation in response to the emergence of new critical technologies, significant shifts in the market, or the development of new business products or services, among other events. These professionals work closely with the CEO and the C-suite, but at the same time, they must also collaborate with employees at virtually every level of the company.
Having a strong, focused senior leader at the helm of such an undertaking is thus critical to its success.
Three Necessary Qualities to Look for in a DTO
If you decide to hire a DTO, the person you choose for the role must possess several essential qualities to steer your company through a successful digital transformation. These qualities are in addition to technical expertise and general industry knowledge:
They can see the big picture.
A DTO must take in the whole picture of your company and determine the critical areas where people, data, and infrastructure interact. They can then leverage that knowledge to implement digital initiatives for every significant business process’s strategic innovation and business transformation.
They must be able to consider the customer’s experience and needs as the agent and driver for change, on the one hand, while understanding the unique needs and culture of your business on the other. It includes understanding how people and departments interact and how third-party vendors and service providers fit into the system. The goal is to balance the company-wide need for change and adaptation with consideration for employee needs for consistency, stability, and clarity.
They possess good communication and collaboration skills.
While the role requires a wide range of soft skills, abilities in communication and collaboration are at the top of the list. A DTO must speak to a broad spectrum of people at every level of the company. It is crucial not only for gathering information and feedback but for encouraging employee buy-in in response to change. It (almost) goes without saying that a big part of communication is not just speaking to others but listening to what is being said or reported honestly.
They are humble and able to learn from others.
This role involves gathering a lot of input from employees at the lowest ranks of a company, particularly those directly involved with customers, such as sales and customer service representatives. At the same time, DTOs must report to the CEO and collaborate with other C-Suite executives. To do this properly, a good DTO must be open and willing to learn from others, consider different ideas and opinions, and be ready to course-correct when an initiative goes off track.
Not Every Company Needs a DTO
While many companies may want to pass the responsibilities of a DTO on to a specific individual, so they are free to focus on other areas of the business, it may not be the best decision. Here are a few reasons why:
- Unlike traditional C-Suite roles, the DTO is transient by design. It means that companies usually employ a DTO to get a digital transformation off the ground. Once the change is fully integrated into the company’s operations, the DTO is no longer needed. With the proper infrastructure and data-driven culture in place, digital transformation and innovation self-perpetuates.
- Another issue is that companies typically hire an outsider to fill the role of DTO. While this may give the company access to a fresh perspective, an outsider working in a transitory position may not be willing or able to reach the level of understanding– whether of the company or the market it serves– needed to make the most effective decisions.
- Because digital infrastructure and adaptability are key business competencies, direct involvement in the digital transformation process helps senior leaders improve their strategic decisions overall.
While companies that rely on analogue processes may benefit from a dedicated DTO, in many cases, appointing a DTO is not in the best interest of an already digitally aligned company. It may be much more effective to create a company-wide commitment with a team of senior leaders responsible for the digital transformation, rather than passing the details and management of the transition off to one individual.