Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Part two of the exclusive Interview with Jora Gill, Chief Digital Officer of the Economist.

The second part of my interview with Jora Gill from the forthcoming Chief Digital Officer's Handbook. Jora is the new Chief Digital Officer of the Economist. 


Mark Baker: Can you tell me what barriers do you see the CDOs come up against? Your own experience and from those around you. What are main barriers that stop you from...

Jora Gill: I think there's a soft side and the hard side to that question. The hard side is that the CDO skills predominantly come through from two backgrounds. One is technology so ex-CIOs, ex-CTOs or two is marketing, so ex-CMOs and what you want with the CDO is a mixture of both. So you want somebody who really thinks from a customer perspective. How do customers think and how can we market to those customers but you also want somebody who can deliver through those great thoughts, you know, a technologist who's grown up and  been able to actually deliver on the strategic promises. The difficulty is how do find people who have that joint mindset.  If this combined strategic and operational mindset does not exist there is a danger that the CDOs fall back into their comfort zone when faced with tough issues. In the case of the technologist the comfort zone maybe operational and problem solving or in the case of a business background CDO their comfort zone maybe marketing, sales or some other discipline. So what's the role of a CDO? If all I do is deliver technology solutions, then I'm a CIO or CTO. If all I do marketing related, then I'm a CMO. My role as a CDO has both technology and business drivers. It consists of three verticals. One is product management new ideas, innovation, what can we experiment on build fast and fail fast and learn from that. The second is digital technical with the normal focus on technical demand management, expectation management, project management and technical capabilities required to execute. The essential difference here between a CDO and CIO is that a CDOs role is focused on the touch points of the customer and not the wider enterprise technologies a CIO has to deal with. The final vertical is data and analytics. An example of how data is used is that we may have thought that we had a good idea, we built on that good idea, now let's see what the customer thought by looking at the data. This essentially provides commercial feedback into the department and occasionally the feedback says “We can build you great products but we can also tell you those great products weren't as great as we first thought.”
The other element of the CDO is the soft side.. The CDO needs to bring together the whole organisation in embracing a digital strategy. They do not necessarily have to own or devise the digital strategy but must champion it. This can take a lot of energy even though it sounds obvious we should not dismiss this we only need to look at firms like Kodak and Blockbuster where the digital challenges were staring them in the face but they could not react due to internal organizational inertia or a missing digital champion.

Mark Baker: Do you think there's an element that CIOs and to a certain extent, CTOs don't have the permission to fail whereas the entrepreneur or the CDO may have?

Jora Gill: I think so but I think also it depends how the CIO, CTO's being brought up. So if you've come up from a security background, your mindset is always going to be on protection. You got to protect the organisation from people who are trying to bring down your website or infringe your data and privacy laws. So you come up with a mindset that's sort of very much into a rulebook rightfully so of reasons why we can't do things and I think there is a large quantities of CIOs, CTOs that have come up with always thinking of what can go wrong. So they sit in meetings and they sit in and that's why they're great CIOs and CTOs because they'll sit in them going “Okay, you think this project can be delivered in three months but let me tell you we can't. We haven't the right we have the right people, capable of executing to the level that we want. So they come from a mindset of what can go wrong. With the CDO role, you come from a mindset of the art of the possible, going “What would happen if we did this, this and this?” So you come from that entrepreneurial mindset. So I think that's the challenge but having said that, I meet, as I said earlier, I think there's many, many CIOs and CTOs are more than capable of being bold and of experimenting of failing fast but they have to get away from thinking that a failed project is a failed project. Sometimes a failed project is a successful project because what you've done has killed that project. That three million project; stop it one hundred thousand in, and someone might say “Oh, you've just wasted a hundred thousand.” and I'd say “No, I've just saved you two point nine million.” So it's changing your mindset.

 . . . to be continued tomorrow  . . .

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