Does Your Agency Need A Chief Digital Officer?

May 30, 2013

Russell Reynolds Associates, the senior-level executive search firm, says that the last 2 years have seen the rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO), a senior executive who sits at the right hand of the CEO. According to the consulting firm Gartner, 25% of organizations will have a Chief Digital Officer by 2015. Large organizations such as Forbes, CVS, Harvard University, NBC News, Amnesty International USA, and Starbucks have hired CDOs recently. This sort of growth within the private and non-profit sector raises the question, “Does my agency need a CDO?”

To answer that question, ask yourself:

  1. Does my Agency need to break down silos and eliminate inefficiencies?
  2. Does my Agency need to change based on customer service metrics and analytics?
  3. Does my Agency need help meeting citizens’ expectations of a 21st century government?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, a CDO may be the person you need to bring change. Reynolds says,

“The CDO needs to be someone who not only has digital acumen but also is a seasoned general manager who can operate within a large-scale business and influence effectively across the organization.”

In other words, they need to be a bit of a geek, but also able to work with a variety of individuals to get the necessary results.

Many large government agencies are working toward meeting the legitimate and increasing demands from citizens that information and services be accessible anywhere, anytime, and on any device. But they are discovering many efficiencies by working across previously siloed groups. For example, Commerce’s Census Bureau is now using 21st century technology to meet its centuries-old mission, making the statistics that define our growing, changing nation more accessible to the public than ever before. They developed an Application Programming Interface (API) to supply data to their”America’s Economy” mobile app.

This information-centric, customer-centric platform is the result of the collaboration of the Census Bureau with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The creation of this mobile app combined data in new ways that hasn’t been done before, across agencies, creating efficiencies for both the public and the agencies involved. A CDO would be able to look from outside a silo and see where, like in the Census example, the efficiencies and improvements could be made.

Given how the confluence of mobile, big data, and social is changing the customer’s digital experience, citizens can be frustrated by digital offerings from government agencies that don’t match the private sector. The Digital Government Strategy requires all websites to collect qualitative and quantitative data about users with the goal of improving the customer experience. At the Department of Commerce, when we realized that our internal search tool wasn’t providing users what they were searching for, we changed to USASearch. Our customer satisfaction scores immediately went up nearly 10 percentage points. A CDO would be able to look at not just one digital product, but all digital products, and drive improvement in the customer experience.

New initiatives like the Digital Government Strategy and Open Data Policy, which requires government agencies to provide newly generated government data in machine-readable formats, are moving agencies toward providing information and services in new ways. CDOs would be empowered to look at existing information and data and redeploy it for maximum effect. For example, Rachel Haot, NYC’s CDO, spearheaded the We Are Made in NY initiative. With a goal of promoting and encouraging NYC’s tech community, it pulls together existing information and data from within New York City’s government offices. Rather than display the information based upon the city government’s structure, We are Made in NY puts the end user at the center of everything and displays the information according to their needs, all at a low cost. In part because of Rachel’s team’s actions, NYC is now only second behind Silicon Valley in terms of start-up acquisitions.

A CDO may not be the solution for all agencies, but this individual may be the person you are looking for to bring your agency’s public-facing government services in line with 21st century expectations.

How does your agency plan to meet the requirements of the Digital Government Strategy and Open Data Policy?The views and opinions presented in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of GSA