Thinking Digitally Is Not A Separate Job Function

from the it's-part-of-everything dept

During the original internet boom years, there were lots of old school companies who realized they needed to get this internet thing, so they would appoint someone to have a title like “Chief Internet Officer” to show they were doing something. Of course, in most cases, they would come up with big dumb “internet ideas” like creating yet another portal in a very crowded market. It appears that the trend of Chief Internet Officers is back — and it’s the same big old media companies. It really was just a few months ago when we mocked MTV for a Business Week article talking about how much the company now “got” the internet. The quotes and strategies in the article suggested that wasn’t the case at all. Still, it’s a bit surprising that it didn’t take long for it to play out. Business Week (again) is now reporting that the 30-something they hired as “Chief Digital Officer” to lead the internetification of MTV has quietly left the company, less than a year after being appointed (we’ll note that the Business Week article doesn’t seem to acknowledge its gushing profile of the supposedly new digitally focused MTV from just a few months earlier).

The article also notes that other media firms have been appointing similarly titled individuals to help craft a digital/internet strategy. This is a very traditional media way of thinking about things: the internet is just another channel, and so you need to program it like you would a TV network or a magazine. That’s absolutely the wrong way to think about these things. The internet isn’t a broadcast medium for content providers. The internet has always been about communications — and content providers need to recognize that. The way for old media companies to embrace digital isn’t to appoint a chief digital officer who has no power, but to recognize that an understanding of the internet needs to pervade all aspects of the business. The internet isn’t just another platform, but something that will impact every other aspect of their business, by enhancing, changing, challenging and reshaping how they create, deliver and promote all of the content they offer now. These companies don’t need Chief Digital Officers. It’s not a separate job function. They need to get the entire company thinking digitally and understanding how it impacts their business.


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Comments on “Thinking Digitally Is Not A Separate Job Function”

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20 Comments
Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Same old Story...

Too many companies want to get into/onto the Internet, but don’t know why. They want Internet Sales, but do not believe in supporting it or spending money on the effort.

This was, I suspect, the reason behind the dot-com-bomb, and I have yet to see any evidence that corporate America has learned anything from it.

http://wizardprang.wordpress.com/2005/01/20/how-to-make-money-from-the-web/

Tyshaun says:

it is what they make of it...

The internet has always been about communications — and content providers need to recognize that. The way for old media companies to embrace digital isn’t to appoint a chief digital officer who has no power, but to recognize that an understanding of the internet needs to pervade all aspects of the business. The internet isn’t just another platform, but something that will impact every other aspect of their business, by enhancing, changing, challenging and reshaping how they create, deliver and promote all of the content they offer now.

Although I think your “philosophy” on what the internet is is very compelling, it’s also a bit miopic. The amorphous nature of the internet is its biggest strength. The fact that the internet can be an ad billboard or communications forum, at the same time, is it’s greatest strength. However, I can’t bring myself to indicte or blame a company that approaches the internet with a tepid “move slowly and stick to the side of the pool” mentality. Truly sucessfull long term companies have learned one thing and that is that while change is necessary, change management is key. So yes, companies do need to embrace the internet and all of its possibilities, but it needs to be done in such a way as to make sure the embrace is a mutual loving one and not one that places the company in dissaray.

Being a member of a generation of people who pretty much have had the internet in one form or another since my childhood, it is a normal part of my reality, but for some companies that have been around for 20, 50, maybe 100 years, the internet is still a fad that needs to prove itself worthy. I can understand while the initial steps to the internet are to treat it like a new version of a TV or radio, it’s what these companies understand. The marketing people know how to make commercials and ads not how to run a chat room and such.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Come on in, the water's lovely

“The fact that the internet can be an ad billboard or communications forum, at the same time, is it’s greatest strength.”

Too many companies are using it as an ad billboard (“Just set up a website”) and avoiding the communications forum (“No can do – costs money and resources”).

“However, I can’t bring myself to indicte or blame a company that approaches the internet with a tepid “move slowly and stick to the side of the pool” mentality”

I don’t _blame_ them either… but it is a rather myopic way of using the Internet. I once worked for a company that spent millions on trying to “build a web presence”. Trouble was, their website did not work very well, and when it did, they did not have the resources in place to support the customers. Everyone on the front lines knew this, but Management refused to listen, preferring to believe what the consultants told them. End result: millions flushed down the toilet.

“Truly sucessfull long term companies have learned one thing and that is that while change is necessary, change management is key. So yes, companies do need to embrace the internet and all of its possibilities, but it needs to be done in such a way as to make sure the embrace is a mutual loving one and not one that places the company in dissaray.”

How many “long term companies” have really embraced the Internet? Even Microsoft had difficulties doing so. Most of the innovative uses of the Internet come from nimble startups. In many cases the big companies embrace the Internet by acquiring those startups.

“The marketing people know how to make commercials and ads not how to run a chat room and such.”

Those who DO know – the geeks – are ignored because CxOs listen to Sales and Marketing first, Personnel/Human Resources second… and the techs not at all.

It’s not a question of skills, it’s a question of attitude and leadership.

Brian A. (user link) says:

Boss of nothing

I have to disagree on this one. As much as old media companies “don’t get” the Internet, their employees “get it” even less. Without the proper motivation, big companies are prone to group think, idea stagnation, and generally an attitude of business as usual. No one wants to fight an uphill battle against ingrained business practices by themselves. In many cases this type of profound change requires a top-level initiative, with someone who has the ear of senior management.

The idea that one little guy can somehow force the behemoth to come to grips with the Internet is false. In most cases the guy is just going to say “screw you” and break off to start his own company that “gets” the Internet. Without someone to lead the way, the rank and file employee won’t have a clue how to think digitally.

Whatever he said says:

binary brain farts

I hear a lot of buzz words like “paradigm shift” and its attitude and leadership — but is anyone really thinking? C’mon now — think digitally.

00100101110101000100101000101101011001000100101101011101

00101111100101010110110101001010101010000010101011110101011010010101

0000111010101010001010101110101

Lewis Salem says:

Yes!

Mike,

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been in meetings where it was said that the web site is “to support what is done in print.” This is wrong! The internet is THE tool. We are still considered to be a small fringe group and do not get the funding or recognition that other departments get.

I feel that it’s important for us to convey this to management so that they put more faith in IT. Of course, a few raises/promotions wouldn’t hurt! 🙂

Andrew B says:

Need CDO to Transition

I agree that in a future state down the road all divisions will incorporate digital/internet strategy and methods into what they do: content generation, marketing, ops, crm, etc. However most media companies will take some time getting there and a CDO will be necessary to drive it from the top.

Of course the CDO will require money and staff, which willl need to come from other groups: marketing, tech, design, biz dev folks will need to come together in a new way.

When the new models are established, the CDO job could transition away. For larger older media companies however, that will take some time.

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