Aug 10 2017

Should Your Agency Hire a Chief Digital Officer?

The age of digital government is changing government hiring needs.

Here’s a job opening for you to peruse: Earn a salary of up to $137,000; manage all digital touchpoints for residents in Boston; oversee the city’s website, mobile applications, social media and more.

Does it seem enticing? You’re not alone. This is the job description for Boston’s chief digital officer, a job for which more than 100 candidates applied. Officials say they hope to have someone on board by the fall to replace the city’s previous CDO, who resigned in May after completing an extensive overhaul of the city’s website.

“Essentially, the role as we envision it is a person who can help us provide exceptional digital services as a government,” says the city’s CIO, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, to whom the city’s new CDO will report.

“There’s a real recognition in government that how we deliver services is changing and has to change,” he says. “That’s the crux of what this role is about.”

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Digital Government Calls for Tech-Savvy Talent

As the digital needs of municipal and state governments change, so do their hiring needs.

A 2017 Forrester study found that 11 percent of government business and technology decision-makers who have prioritized digital business say that they have hired or plan to appoint a chief digital officer.

In addition to Boston, officials in London are hiring a new CDO — the city’s first. Spokesperson Jonathan Weisgard says he expects the city to be able to announce the new appointment in the next few months.

Earlier this month, Rhode Island hired a new principal technology officer, Bijay Kumar, a former vice president of IT at the toy company Hasbro. He fills a role left vacant by the state’s previous CDO in January 2017, says Brenna McCabe, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Administration.

The state’s CDO position was created in 2012, along with its Office of Digital Excellence, she says.

Technology plays an integral role in how government delivers services, so this position is very important in helping Rhode Island succeed,” McCabe says. “We wanted someone with extensive leadership and project management experience, as it’s crucial in government to have a strong IT governance process.”

New York City Nixes Its CDO for Stronger CTO

But it’s also likely that the digital officer role could be a short-lived position as technology rolls quickly forward in state and local government IT.

A Gartner study from 2013 predicted that by 2014 more than 20 percent of government organizations would appoint a chief digital officer. An IDC study, even more bullish about the role, predicted 60 percent of CIOs would be replaced by CDOs by 2020. But these numbers haven’t quite materialized. In fact, the creation of these roles in companies and governments alike seems to be slowing.

One example of this is New York City, which reorganized its technology department in May to do away with the CDO position and instead absorb the role into a stronger chief technology officer position.

Miguel Gamiño, who assumed the CTO role and now oversees a department of about 25 people, says that when the CDO role was eliminated, those responsibilities were added to his portfolio. This includes overseeing the city’s digital efforts, broadband and smart city initiatives, among other things.

He says initial feedback to the reorganization has been positive.

“It’s not a criticism, but before it was a little confusing in terms of who was responsible for various aspects of information technology,” Gamiño says. “The pendulum swung in one direction creating these other leadership roles, but the unintended consequence caused some confusion in terms of the specifics of these various roles.”

Gartner analysts predicted this confusion among chief technology officers, chief digital officers, chief data officers and other emergency technology roles in the 2013 study. The report also noted that overlapping roles and the lack of sufficiently clear distinction about information management responsibilities could lead to a “rebalancing” of roles.

By centralizing its information management, New York City has created a simpler structure that has made connecting with industry and the community at large easier, Gamiño says, “because people understand what my role is.”


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