September 29, 2023

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EXCLUSIVE – What to look for in your new Chief Digital Officer

EXCLUSIVE - What to look for in your new Chief Digital Officer

Governments globally are awakening to the reality of their need for a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to guide their journey in the Digital Age.   Chief Information and Technology Officers have been busy for the last decade working to embrace and enable digital while at the same time managing information, legacy systems, IT Security and the list goes on.  The fact is that governments need a dedicated resource to drive their digital agenda.   As much as this is a key leadership role, adding a CDO signals something much broader than a hiring decision.  The time has come to transform government services, leveraging technology and moving us all into the digital age.

Having spent some time myself in a few government leadership roles at the nexus of technology and transformation I thought I would share my thoughts on the attributes to look for in a CDO.   

Government Experience

I realize that some people think to be successful, a CDO needs to come from the private sector with their big ideas and no “history” of how things work or don’t work in government.  From my perspective  a CDO needs to understand how government operates, that it is a collection of competing interests, politics and priorities that are driven by internal and external factors.  Government is not private sector, I have seen too many private sector leaders who didn’t “get” government.  Government experience is not essential but very important.

Your first CDO needs to be someone who understands how government works currently in order to understand the cost and impact of transforming it digitally.  The CDO should seek out the early adopters, those who are ready for the change and whose clients are demanding a new, more relevant approach to government services. They should also have the know how to partner with the leaders, ministries, agencies, boards and commissions to reinvent government.

You need a CDO who will ensure the right investments are supported and pursued to provide examples to those in government who have yet to be convinced that digital will be your new frontier.

You need a leader who is passionate about leveraging technology to transform government, to simplify services and interactions with and for citizens.  The opportunity to serve citizens and business, to make their lives easier and to streamline their interaction with government is not a job, it is a mission !

Digital is about the People

Yes the Public Sector accomplishes what it does everyday thanks to the government workers who make government work.  These people are close to the front lines and know what citizens want and need.  A Digital strategy needs to help these people accomplish what they need to do to be successful every single day.   People, their acceptance, use and support of your new digital reality is key to any organization's success.  You need a Chief Digital Officer that not only understands this, you need one who has been on the front lines of change in government.

Active Participant

You need a Chief Digital Officer who has throughout their career walked in the shoes of those they work with and serve.  You need someone who understands all perspectives in leading and setting direction.  You need a leader who has learned to listen to the team around them in order to adjust the plan given new insights.   

Game Changer

You need someone who has already been using digital technology to make change, real change that has been accepted and embraced.  You need someone who can both inspire and energize digital technology staff, business staff and leaders as well as partners and citizens.  

You need someone who understands that you change the game by playing the game differently and digital is no different.  Government needs to pursue relationships with labs, incubators and startups locally in order to bring the best to their organizations.  Pilots, proof of concepts and competitions are all very tangible ways to pursue adoption of your digital future.  

Changing the game also requires some positive and purposeful disruption, being bold and taking calculated risks are critical in a transformative environment.

Sharp Tech Strategist

What is critical in a Chief Digital Officer is to have a leader who has learned to adapt and adopt as technology has changed in enterprises.  You need a business leader who understands how to leverage technology.  You need someone who has made real change driven by the needs of citizens and the public service.  There needs to be real tangible evidence of this, actions and outcomes not just words or ideas.

Passionate Educator

You need a CDO who from early in their career has always had the opportunity to work at the nexus of emerging technology and core business service delivery.  This person needs to be able to connect the complexities of the digital world to the “real world” amongst all levels in an organization.  You need someone who believes every effective leader has the responsibility to educate and peer mentor across the organization in order to ensure digital technology is serving the business and most importantly customers and citizens.

Awesome Mentor

Your CDO needs to have extreme experience in mentoring leaders and emerging leaders.  You need someone who cares about the people around them and continually looks for people who are passionate about their work and driven to serve in order to find ways to support them and encourage them to lead beyond what they even believe the are capable of themselves.  You need a CDO who has a track record of successfully mentoring people who have gone on to become influential leaders in very successful roles.

Bold Thinker

You need a bold thinker who knows that they are only one person and that they need to leverage the collective to guide solution design for the best outcomes.  When you broaden the circle and draw many people into the problem the solutions are more complete, thoughtful and give everyone an opportunity to see how their contribution was considered.  It is important for people to see how their contribution makes a difference every day.  You need a calculated  risk taker with experience in helping government organizations transform, leveraging digital technology to dramatically enhance citizen service delivery.

Bringing the Digital Vision to Life

Change is hard and change in government is even harder.  your CDO needs to bring the digital vision to life by first working with the early adopters, those departments, ministries, agencies, boards and commissions that are already there, harnessing new technology to meet the needs of citizens.  They also need to  work with their team to find other projects that need support and launch a few more key initiatives.  Telling the story of success and creating courage in the minds and hearts of leaders will be a key next step.

Ensuring there are digital transformers across government will be another key milestone, these will be people in key positions who have the ability to drive change and transform from within.  The reality is that they are already there, trying their best to move digital forward, they just need support !  All of this needs to be done using lean and agile methodologies in order to see results as quickly as possible.  A Lean Startup approach of developing minimal viable products/services along with proof of concept will be another important approach.

Leveraging existing partnerships with labs and incubators locally will spur innovation and also stimulate economic development.  Policies will need to be reviewed and changed to support a game changing approach to transformation from the ways of the past.  Key in all of this is to ensure the people who make government work every day can see themselves in the change and can clearly articulate the future of government on a digital platform.

Your Chief Digital Officer needs to have the courage to pursue the digital future.  They must have excellence, integrity and accountability as their core values.  They must be able to challenge conventional thinking, spark curiosity, pursue smart risks and make tough decisions.

You need a leader who is focussed on the people, the greater good and the hope of the future while honouring the past.

It is the 21st century and time to embrace your collective digital future.

Choose Well !


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