Transformation or Digital Transformation?


Transformation or Digital Transformation?

What is the difference between transformation and digital transformation? If you ask the general public, you will probably have many who make a clear distinction between them. If you ask the expert, a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) you are likely to get quite a few saying there is no difference.

Since the CDO barometer* survey we conducted six months ago, I met some of the respondents to discuss the results in person and to get some advice on what the survey should focus on in upcoming releases. Here is a summary of some of the topics that came up.


The economic outlook has improved considerably in the past months. This has unlocked a lot of opportunities to get riskier investments approved. One CDO claims this has improved the digital acumen of decision makers. We are seeing more activities in areas, which were earlier, too much science fiction. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have climbed in rank and are now actively explored and exploited. Investments in digitizing the customer experience layer are still growing but this area is maturing beyond the special interest of the CDO.

The power of social is true.


Capturing and exploiting data has been a megatrend for a long time, but it has taken a while for it to become a commodity capability, which it is today. In some industries, the CDOs’ source of data is predominantly sensors as a component of their IoT landscape. An interesting viewpoint from one CDO was that data has become an impeccable change driver because data is an incorruptible ally in providing arguments and encouragement to change. It leaves no room for speculation and helps convince the skeptics that e.g. end-user decision-making protocols have changed, the power of social is true.

Myopia Bilot


As the appearance of CDO’s increases, governance and decision-making needs to be clarified. It is not unheard of that the CIO has felt that the CDO has hijacked the IT agenda or has started to overly patronize. The tension can easily start to build when the CDO is seen as the one who stuns management with digital dreams and expects the CIO to execute and deliver. IT is traditionally organized under the CFO whereas the CDO most likely either under the CMO, CTO of even a boardroom position reporting to the CEO.

Of course there are many cases where the food chain has been formally communicated, agreed and internalized and there is no conflict.

CDO is in many cases positioned as an ambassador of a certain technology/process area such as customer loyalty, customer relationship management, analytics, robotics, AI or IoT instead of being the grand master of a holistic digitalization strategy.

Chief Innovation Officers are already quietly stampeding towards us.


One of the most common views the CDO’s have is that one of the highest speed bumps for the CDO is executive management’s digital myopia. The more traditional the industry the harder it is for management to flex their minds towards digital disruption. Myopic management is often also agnostic – they need to see live examples for fiction to become fact. IT can be an excellent ally in being a marketer. By means of proofing concepts and demonstrating solutions on actual use cases can help reach the tipping point of true buy-in.


Above all the CDO regards itself as a transformation leader. Once digital becomes the new normal, the CDO shall move on to steer the next vehicle of change and help the organization navigate itself to a new reality. This is perhaps already happening and if you carefully place your ear to the ground, you might hear a herd of CIOs shuffling in the horizon, the Chief Innovation Officers are already quietly stampeding towards us.

More about this topic:
Download the CDO Barometer 2017 report *
Mika Tanner: Is shooting for the moon ridiculous?
Janne Vihervuori: 3 ways of advancing the steps of digitalization


* Note: The link now directs to the 2018 CDO Barometer, but no worries: it includes comparisons between 2017 and 2018.

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Mika Tanner

Bilot Alumni

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