Digital and social media cuts across an organisation structure (negating the long-term need for a Chief Digital Officer?)

Digital and Social Media Cuts across an Organisation

It is universally accepted that digital and social media has had and continues to have a significant impact on most industries or what I have termed as ICETAPMA (Information, Communication, Entertainment, Transaction – Anytime and Pretty Much Anywhere!). However, the challenge for organisations is how best to embrace this change given ‘digital transformation’ as traditional business models evolve – and more pertinently what should be the operating model/organisation structure be?

Previously, we explored ‘Integrated Marketing and How the Old Principles Still Lend Themselves to Digital and Social Media’. All organisations need to ‘invest accordingly’ when it comes to digital and social media, the ‘mobile web’ and their integrated nature – and build upon their existing online efforts – in order to take full advantage of the real-time and relevant insights that can help shape product development and aid profitable growth. The ‘investing’ element is not under debate, but the ‘accordingly’ element is – in terms of value and structure (or Target Operating Models).

Many times, I have been asked by those we present to, including recently one CEO and one MD at their respective Board meetings, where the responsibility should sit for digital and social media in their organisation. Both of them inferred and gazed at the Marketing Director. This is probably a typical answer but personally rather short-sighted – viewing the role and impact of digital and social media as only a communications channel. This may have much to do with the fact that in the UK most Marketing Directors, Managers or CMOs only have responsibility for brand and awareness (and in some cases a large advertising spend).

However, if we take the Procter & Gamble definition of a brand as ‘a promise delivered’ and their typical responsibilities for Brand Management and Marketing then a Marketer (with gravitas and impact) should have responsibility for brand equity, the P&L (topline revenue and profitability), strategy (long-term planning), product (development and management) and customer experience. And so, digital and social media finds a comfortable and appropriate home and ‘champion’ that can ‘e-enable’ a whole organisation and let organisational capability develop.

As I said, in the introduction and have illustrated in the figure above – digital and social media cuts across an organisation impacting all departments and most of their objectives. If digital is viewed as communications tool then some believe it could fit in Marketing or PR; if a sales channel or for customer service then it could fit in Operations or Sales – and yet it will have significant impact on Product, Research & Development, Strategy, Supply Chain, Finance and Investor Relations (helping each of these departments to gain greater real-time insights and improve decision making). And so, given this and in the absence of a ‘definite’ home for digital and social media – there is much clamour for new Board level/CxO positions. In addition, we have seen Ecommerce Directors be appointed to boards to bring a focus to digital as a sales and customer experience channel as well as manage its profitability.

Having one ‘digital lead’ is understandable given that most organisations have a broad spread of digital competence and capability – with multiple agencies or external vendors across departments. Other solutions include having a ‘Centre of Excellence’ or ‘Global Team’ (generally serving the major geography and ‘supporting’ via ‘best practice’ other geographies). However, all of this reinforces the need for ‘someone’ to pull together a clear view of the current situation, business challenges, vision and strategy. And so, a short-term solution may be to appoint a Chief Digital Officer or ‘digital lead’ to assist with this and aid any resulting transformation. But, in my view, this should be positioned as only a short-term or interim role.

There is a similar debate going on about the need for Chief Customer Officers or Customer Experience Directors. This seems to be due to the fact that many organisations state that they ‘have the customer at the heart of the organisation’ or are ‘customer centric’. Not many understand what this means or how true it is – especially when times become tough or shareholders question performance. However, given the importance of customer focus – I can see the debate for ‘Customer Experience leads’, but once again I would not endorse it. All departments must be customer focused and could use the model below to deliver a seamless customer experience flowing from the ‘brand promise’ and a typical customer flow/journeys. This further reinforces the need for digital (online via desktops, laptops, tablets or Digital TV and mobile) and offline (face-to-face and telephony) integration and a seamless experience.

Seamless Customer Experience Integration

And so, ultimately, all organisations must ensure that digital (and an end-customer focus) is spread and embedded across all departments and helps to achieve desired business objectives. This ‘embedded model’ which I fully support would then negate the long-term need for a Chief Digital Officer, Ecommerce Director, Digital Director or one ‘digital lead’ (outside of the CEO) as well as the multitude of other new CxO positions.

I guess all of the significant ‘technology, new media, digital or retail organisations’ set up in the last 20 years or so do not have a digital lead; however, would appointing an ‘Offline Director’ or ‘Chief Telephony Officer’ or ‘Bricks and Mortar Officer’ be seen as ‘retro-chic? I guess not and certainly not needed!

by Dowshan Humzah

Written By Dowshan Humzah

Dowshan Humzah has delivered profitable business growth via product development, brand innovation and digital channel expansion for blue-chip companies across Financial Services, Internet, Telecoms, Media and FMCG as well as business start-ups. He shows how organisations can benefit from applying a ‘digital and social media lens’ across their core organisational objectives and then answer the ‘so what’ question in order to generate customer and financial value from digital tools. You can find him on LinkedIn and Google+


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