Companies need a chief digital officer (CDO) only if they can't change the way IT projects operate, according to Transport for London (TfL) CIO Steve Townsend.
Townsend told V3 that digital transformation is different to technology and IT transformation owing to the way the majority of IT projects in the past have been operated, not just at TfL but in the sector generally.
"IT became very much about the delivery of shiny things, the delivery of technology, and almost forgot about the transformation you have to make inside your organisation to get the return on investment and benefit," he said.
"What digitisation has done is reminded us all that there is a technical element. There's a new technology you can use in a different way so you can think differently. It's reminding us that you don't just automate processes otherwise you fail faster."
Townsend explained that digitisation requires the organisation to evaluate how it operates and build appropriate processes based on what can be done with technology now.
"There are new technologies out there and they can be used in a different way, but it has reminded us about the cultural changes you have to make. If people don't make that shift, digitisation will become very much like [any] IT project that is just serving technology in a certain way," he said.
"You can't just take analogue processes and turn them into digital processes. You need to change to accommodate them."
But do organisations need a chief digital officer to transform themselves digitally?
"I don't think you necessarily need a CDO. I think you need a different and alternative way of thinking," said Townsend.
He believes that CIOs still need to think the analogue way about purely delivering change through waterfall methods of high-level design and low-level design, particularly when controlling financial and security processes, but that they are required to do more to ensure they aren't replaced by CDOs.
"So you have to remain an expert in [using waterfall methods for certain processes]. However, organisations require more agility. It needs a different mode of thinking and a new approach. Waterfall just doesn't work in the fast-moving technology world," Townsend said.
"That's why you need to call it something else, and why people are tempted to call it a CDO or digital transformation expert. They do need to be called something different [sometimes] because people have to think differently, but really you're just doing business analytics in a different way. So do you need to change the leadership? Yes, if it can't handle that level of digitisation."
V3 reported earlier this week that Townsend now reports to TfL's marketing chief rather than the chief finance officer.
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