The Dialogue on Digital is Deafening but Real

It is almost impossible to escape the word ‘digital’ these days. It’s all over television, print, and online advertisements. It fills countless newspaper and magazine articles, in print and online. It pops up on the shelves at book stores, online and offline. In fact, for all matters of intent, it might as well become a new category on Amazon.com; the word ‘digital’ returns nearly 4.5 million search results in its book section.

But that’s the media world, which you’d expect to be riveted on all things digital. All of that industry’s products can be and are being, digitized; it is smack in the middle of the maelstrom of the digital revolution.

Yet when the word suddenly starts showing up near the top of large companies’ organizational charts, you know (to invoke the classic phrase of Buff alo Springfield, the 1960s’ hit rock band) “there’s something happening here”. The word ‘digital’ has infiltrated a fast growing number of executive titles: chief digital officer, chief innovation and digital officer, chief digital experience officer, among them. Major companies such as McGraw- Hill, Gannett, Sephora, Best Buy, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and the British Broadcasting Corp. now have these executives near the top of their organizational charts. And the list of senior executives in charge of digital matters is rapidly expanding. Chief digital officers (‘CDO’ is the hip new acronym) across the world numbered nearly 500 last year, and the total is predicted to double by the end of this year, according to the Chief Digital Officer Club.1 (Exhibit I-1)

This is not a U.S.-only phenomenon. European chief digital officers now make up nearly one quarter of the total. However, most CDOs (68% of the total) still work in North American organizations. Executives with the word ‘digital’ in their title even exist at longestablished organizations that would seem to be anything but digital: UK’s tax collection agency (HMRC), New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harvard University, to name a few.

Exhibit I-1 Number of Chief Digital Officers Worldwide

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