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The Tale of the Chief Digital Officer Is Still Being Written

There are three main archetypes of digital business leaders that differ in focus but are united under the chief digital officer umbrella.

New executive roles have historically emerged from macro shifts. For example, chief financial officers appeared in the 1960s as a response to the rising trend of conglomerates requiring complex bookkeeping to meet financial regulations; chief sustainability officers arose in response to decarbonization efforts. Chief digital officers (CDOs) are no exception. As digital became vital to business growth, organizations needed a guide to navigate these unknown waters. Even in an economic downturn, companies are increasing spending on digital initiatives and emerging technologies. But who are these executives with wide responsibilities that span driving digital transformation, fostering digital culture, and optimizing digital channels and touchpoints?

The European consumer uses on average five channels (e.g., browser, app) and four devices (e.g., smartphone, smart speaker). This means that being where your customers are has tilted from involving the physical touchpoints to devices, channels, and platforms — and the CDO is the manager of this new experience portfolio.

Digital impacts all companies — regardless of industry, size, and location. But the value that digital brings differs by organization, and so does the focus of any digital activities. Forrester analyzed the profiles of 85 digital leaders working for large global organizations across different countries and industries. Based on this research, we see three main archetypes of digital business leaders:

  • The omnichanneler. Originating from retail, the e-commerce manager was primarily focused on driving sales through one digital channel. But as companies' digital maturity increased, they evolved this role to head of omnichannel, a position that owns the entire digital experience, digital operations, and, often, key cross-channel journeys.
  • The transformer. Digital transformations have been going on for a while and can mean anything from a full-fledged companywide transformation to a more "modest" IT system migration. The transformer often heads up a companywide business transformation, aiming to improve customer experience and operational agility with digital technology.
  • The digital marketer. Amid the digital revolution, marketers understood the importance of being seen — and the billboards and analog outreach has shifted to digital screens. With SEO, email, and social marketing, martech started to play a more critical role, and the digital leader became essential in digital marketing.


The archetypes are divided by function but united with the same title. As they strive to standardize and optimize by digitalizing, the three roles are brought together under the CDO umbrella. Do you want to understand more about the archetypes of CDOs across industries and unwrap the career path for the three archetypes? Read the full report, Digital Leader Career Paths.

Join us at CX EMEA 2023 in London, May 10–11, to hear a prominent digital leader discuss characteristics that make a digital leader successful, with real examples of challenges and pitfalls to avoid.

This article originally appeared on Forrester's Featured Blogs.

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