Chief Digital Officer: Roles and Responsibilities

Jun 6, 2013

In my previous blog post, I asked if your agency needs a Chief Digital Officer and before you answer maybe you’d want to know what exactly would a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) do at your Agency? According to Tim Bourgeois of , the biggest asset a CDO brings “is the ability … to make something a priority where, under the existing structure, it is tough to make it a priority.” CDOs can emphasize speed and accountability to shake up existing structures. Each agency will have its own needs, but a CDO should be tasked with:

Several recent OMB memos and directives require clear deliverables that existing structures may have a hard time fulfilling, but could fall squarely within the CDO’s portfolio:

  • Customer Service and Analytics. The President’s Executive Order 13571 on Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service requires agencies to advance customer service through innovative technology and improving online services. Implementing this successfully will be a multifaceted effort across the entire agency, but the CDO can use the Digital Government Strategy’s required metrics to build a clear matrix for improving online services that works with the agency’s strategic goals and mission. Depending on your agency, the CDO might also be the individual in charge of implementing these two recent Executive Orders: Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research and Empowering Consumers Through the Smart Disclosure of Data.

  • Data Lifecycle and Stakeholder Engagement. Both the Open Data Policy and Digital Government Strategy require that agencies not only publish machine-readable data, but engage with stakeholders about the quality, usefulness, openness, and privacy of the data. While a Chief Information Officer (CIO) would be the perfect individual to guide the process of building an API for releasing the data, that job description does not include engaging non-profit hunger advocates about the quality of data in a farmer’s market dataset or deciphering the data within the GDP-by-city dataset for a private-sector company. The CDO would be the first point of contact for an external stakeholder seeking to improve the data or to work with the data users to better understand the product.

  • Governance. The Digital Government Strategy requires not only the additional release of data via APIs, but also offering better public services on mobile devices and a clear digital governance structure. One of the appeals of technology is the “shiny new thing” syndrome: Early adopters play with new tools, but don’t have a strategic purpose or a long-term vision for how those tools can meet the agency’s goals. Some agencies have taken that approach to mobile apps. It would be up to the CDO to engage with stakeholders and ensure mobile apps are developed with a strategic purpose. To do that properly, the CDO would need to institutionalize the idea of using digital as a tool to accomplish a goal rather than merely the “shiny new thing.” This will require a cultural shift toward return on investment and working across disparate units to pull together the key items of raw data, technical expertise, and customer service metrics and goals.

Given all these responsibilities, the CDO must have support from the highest levels of agency leadership. Therefore, the CDO should report to the Secretary or Administrator of the agency to ensure he or she has access to all parts of the organization. This also guarantees the highest level of accountability toward meeting the position’s external and internal requirements. If such a hierarchy is not possible, the CDO should be placed within the organizational chart equal to the CIO and Chief Privacy Officer to provide enough oversight of different elements of the agency.

The ideal CDO is focused on transformation—not expansion—of the agency. Therefore, his or her office should be small and nimble with a limited budget.

If your agency created a CDO position, what would you include in their job description?

The views and opinions presented in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of GSA. In my previous blog post, I discussed how to decide if your agency needs a Chief Digital Officer.