Digitalization is without any doubt the trend of the season and there seems to be nearly no company which can ignore this trend.

Similar to the eBusiness hype in 1999/2000 an interesting discussion has been started around the question, who should be responsible for digitalization in a company: The Chief Information Officer, who traditionally is rather focused on “internal IT”, or a new function called “Chief Digitalization Officer”, which needed to be set up in addition to the CIO.

To make it clear right from the beginning: As organizational expert I am not in favor of introducing a new function, since it causes additional complexity, interfaces and need for alignment in an environment which usually is already complex enough.

From my point of view there a two reasonable options, how to adequately respond to the aforementioned question depending on the heterogeneity of the company’s businesses. Note: The basic assumption for both options is, that digitalization plays a deciding role for the success of the company.

  • Option 1: If the company consists of various heterogeneous businesses, it makes most sense, that the business managers take over the responsibility for digitalization as integral part of their respective business units. With some likelihood this requires a considerable amount of training and education for building up the necessary expertise in the business units. However, if the company success really heavily depends on digitalization, this option has from my point no alternative and it should be started rather sooner, than later. External resources could temporarily be utilized to support the development of the necessary expertise in the business unit in course of a “CDO on demand” approach. The CIO can in this option add value as enabler and coordinator between the business units ensuring that cross-business unit activities are adequately bundled based on (hopefully) existing IT Architecture standards.
  • Option 2: If the company consists of only a few, rather homogeneous businesses, I don’t see any reason, why a Chief Information Officer should not be able taking care of digitalization as well in addition to his responsibility for “internal IT”. Like in option 1, this might require a reasonable amount of training and education to develop the necessary expertise in the CIO department as well as the necessary mindset in the business units. However, even more important is from my point of view the fact, that the CIO’s impact on the company success will significantly grow in this approach – which might even lead to an organizational setup, where the CIO becomes member of the Managing Board. Be aware: We talk about the situation, where the company success heavily depends on digitalization.

Both options have in common, that business managers and CIOs need to develop and enhance their expertise and responsibility. This can’t be avoided and for good managers this should even be good news. Important: This development and enhancement process needs carefully and systematically to be prepared and managed. It should definitely not be left to chance.

I am aware, that these thoughts might sound provoking for some managers. Therefore I am really interested into your comments and feedback.

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