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The New Kids on the Block in the Digital Era

Feature Article | August 24, 2017 by Daniel Renkel

The digital era will force new thinking and mindsets on the corporate leaders of today and the new CxO roles of tomorrow. A portrait of three new kids on the block.

Here’s a quick history lesson: The time it took the radio to reach 50 million users was 38 years. The color TV got to the same number in 13 years. Facebook managed it in 3.5 years and the app-based game Angry Birds did it in just 35 days. The emergence of these new age media channels and technologies like blockchain, Internet of Things, or artificial intelligence will have an impact on all dimensions of politics, ecology, social, technology, and economy.

New Thinking Needed

New pacemaker technologies are one of the driving forces behind the shift that is happening in today’s business reality. Digital ventures are scaling-out and change entire industries. The pressures associated with this manifest themselves in many measurable realities. The average company lifespan on the S&P 500 index has reduced by 25% in the last decade whereas the number of billion dollars worth private companies rose by more than 900% in the last six years – a good indicator for the vast number of new players established companies are facing these days. To cope with these external factors organizations have started to adapt – in the form of appointing new specialized leadership roles.

The most prominent examples of the past two years might be the chief digital officer and the chief transformation officer. These two roles have already been standing in the spotlight of every consulting company with almost interchangeable qualities accounted to both roles.

New Kids Around Ecosystems, UX, and Automation

There are also a few areas just beginning to spin out their own CxO. Here are the new kids on the block:

  • Chief Ecosystem Officer: We see great importance in the opening of companies towards a digital ecosystem as the concept of open innovation has matured in co-innovation partnerships on open platforms creating network effects thanks to the wisdom of a more digital-minded crowd. It is the chief ecosystem officer’s job to span the boundaries between industries and facilitate the merge of such, since most innovation happens at the edges of industries. Fore-runner startup Happy Melly was one of the first to appoint a chief ecosystem officer. It was Jurgen Appelo’s job to get people moving by bringing them together.
  • Chief (User) Experience Officer: This job title already co-exists in an early manifestation – the chief design officer. However, design is only one part out of many that make up for the overall user experience of a company. Empathy will even more become a core attribute to transform functionality into meaningful experiences and simple usage into desirability. CEOs have already started to grasp the importance of a satisfying end-to-end user experience and will soon begin to name their CExO. One of the first companies is Microsoft with its chief experience officer Julie Larson-Green who is, for example, responsible for the entire user experience across all Microsoft Office programs.
  • Chief Automation Officer: As cognitive systems, along with artificial intelligence and machine learning, start to change the way processes are executed in an organization, companies will hand over the responsibility to someone managing that discipline in a smart and sustainable fashion. When IT is covered by the CIO and operational processes are managed by the COO, a CAO will bridge the gap and ensure the planning and execution of an organization-wide automation strategy. Enterprises can achieve measurable optimizations quickly, use resources more efficiently, and reconnect siloed departments.

The Specialization of the C-Suite

With the three above-mentioned examples of new CxO roles, the directory boards of established companies will receive an overhaul. Even though not many companies have appointed these ranks yet, the need for them or taking the role by a related existing CxO will become omnipresent in the short-term future.


About the SAP Center for Digital Leadership

As a leading digital pioneer, the SAP Center for Digital Leadership helps CxO customers and their organizations to navigate their digital transformation and lead with innovation. Based on SAP’s internal digital transformation learnings, the research agenda and meetings with more than 150 CxO customers per year, the center provides leaders with best practices for leading digital transformation.

The network and partner ecosystem represents today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in digital business. Partners like European Space Agency and Wacom trust the center and jointly create digital open ecosystems.

For more information, visit www.sap.com/digitalleadership.

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