Sandrine Godefroy has had a rich and varied career path – rather an unusual one too. After spending several years as a journalist and presenter for Radio France, she moved to a career in communications. Later, she worked for Oracle and then IBM, where she was in charge of business development in areas such as business analytics, business intelligence and big data – all of which are now central to digital but at the time were just emerging. In 2009, Godefroy set up her own consulting firm specialising in innovation and digital transformation, helping major groups with change management. She then joined Banque Populaire/Caisse d’Epargne (BPCE) group as Head of Innovation Projects, and in July 2015 joined Econocom as CDO (Chief Digital Officer) to assist the group with its digital transformation.
So how does a CDO fit into a company? What are their roles and responsibilities? What sort of obstacles are they likely to come up against? What sort of examples do they draw their inspiration from? Sandrine Godefroy told us about her vision of the role of CDO.
CDO: PREACHING THE digital GOSPEL
What does a CDO do?
The list of their responsibilities is very long and really depends on the organisation. Basically, a CDO acts as a facilitator and evangelist.
“In every organisation, raising digital awareness is a very important issue. But in addition to helping people understand the implications of digital – i.e., how it will affect the company, its business model, processes and governance – you also need to incorporate it into all the business lines, so it’s really a cross-functional role.”
I often compare the role of CDO to that of Head of IT security (CISO) or Head of Quality, in that it involves providing clarification and training to different business lines that are undergoing transformation. Where the digital transformation is concerned, there is for example a major challenge in terms of human resources. The CDO isn’t meant to replace HR, but he/she can help them better understand and take on board the ins and outs of the digital transformation.
Where does the CDO fit in to an organisation?
The CDO could potentially be part of the Executive Committee, HR, Strategic Marketing, IT. It really depends on the company’s objectives and culture.
“The CDO is a role that should address a vision. There’s not one digital path, but different digital itineraries which vary in terms of the culture, restrictions and opportunities. There’s not one best practice but as many best practices as there are corporate cultures.”
For example, if the company focuses on operational efficiency, the CDO should logically help achieve this operational efficiency. If the company’s vision is more HR governance-oriented, then the CDO should be part of HR. And if digital transformation is perceived as a transformation of the company’s business model, it might be an idea to put the CDO in the development functions or reporting to the Executive Committee.
ONE prioritY: ESTABLISHING THE SCOPE OF THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
What could be the digital transformation drivers within a company?
There are lots! The term ‘digital transformation’ covers a whole range of ideas.
“One of the CDO’s first tasks involves clarifying the meaning of digital transformation in the organisation, so there’s a common language and scope of action. This must of course involve input from the Executive Committee and all the people involved in strategy.”
Digital transformation is a very broad subject, involving all areas of the organisation, so it’s difficult to narrow it down.
“The digital transformation is an infinite playing field … But you have to decide whether you’re playing on a football or a rugby pitch!”
Once people understand it, they need to appropriate it: there’s a difference between understanding the implications of digital transformation and taking them on board, i.e. thinking about the potential benefits. In order to convert employees to digital, they really have to see the point of it. If they say “another thing”, or “I don’t have time for this,” that means they haven’t appropriated the tool, working method or implications.
Digital is a complex, cross-disciplinary issue. The challenge is translating a collaborative vision into a concrete project, whilst remaining pragmatic, which is difficult: there’s a risk it can be too far removed from the employees’ everyday routine. On the other hand, if you see digitalisation purely in terms of projects and launch lots of initiatives, you can get pulled in too many directions.
“With the digital transformation and digital tools, there’s a shift from individual working to a collaborative, collective mode.”
Whereas we used to receive information exhaustively, now we have to be more selective: what with emails, newsletters, social networks and push notifications from mobile apps, you can’t read everything. In terms of behaviour, there’s a huge gap which will continue to widen: analyses show that every year, 25% more information is sent to every workstation, so we can no longer deal with it the same way.
It’s the same thing for a company’s processes. There are more and more technological tools and we can’t master them all. For the CDO, this is both an obstacle and a challenge: until employees have understood that their first task is to choose from the various digital tools, they’ll feel overwhelmed and be put off using them.
“There’s a real social divide, which goes beyond the confines of the company, and is changing the relationship between power and knowledge. We come from a world in which power was exhaustive knowledge. By understanding that this situation has changed, people can decide where they fit into the digital transformation. The point is not for everyone to be active on the social networks or go 100% digital. The first step, which is a huge one, is for everyone to make their own, informed personal decision about digital, because they know what they’re getting into and not because they’re overwhelmed or feel pressured.”
We can’t bridge this divide, but we can help raise digital awareness, provide training – anything that will help employees and managers understand and appropriate digital.
“The key is changing people’s attitude: we don’t work together anymore, we collaborate together. Digital tools are catalysts for a new way of cooperating.”
Could you give us some examples of successful digital transformations?
The most striking examples and the ones that are easiest to measure are often ones with an ROI-oriented vision of digital transformation. Look at e-commerce and the digitalisation of business models, look at all these newcomers that are disrupting the market and revolutionising the traditional economy: Uber, AirBnB and Blablacar are interesting models. But there are also more conventional yet equally inspiring companies such as hotel group Accor, which saw these new companies emerging and reinvented itself by reviewing its business model and adjusting its transformation in line with these new players.
There are also internal transformations and everything that involves in terms of relationships, because behind the processes, there are individuals. A lot of midcaps are experimenting with new projects: freedom-of-initiative organisations, holacracy, etc. It doesn’t mean every company should go that way, but it’s interesting and brings about a new way of thinking, particularly in sectors such as industry, where such a type of governance wouldn’t seem possible.
HOW technologiCAL RESTRICTIONS CAN BE A SOURCE OF PROGRESS
Traditionally, people tended to say that the US was driving the market, but continents such as Africa have, in just a few years, made a real technological leap. Because they didn’t have the network infrastructure to deploy laptops, Africans went straight to mobile devices. In that respect they’re way ahead of Europe… So ironically, it’s their technological limitations that have made them more advanced!
“In France, companies only start thinking about digital transformation when risks arise. As long as there’s no risk of their business model being disrupted, they tend to see digital transformation as an interesting trend to watch out for, without actually taking action. As a result, they only take the plunge when they’re up against it…a situation which subsequently becomes a growth opportunity!”
What advice would you give a company that’s just embarking on its digital transformation?
The first thing is that they need to understand the implications for their company. That may seem obvious, but people often omit this basic step, and then it’s chaos!
This requires analysing your clients and employees: how can we communicate and establish a relationship with them? What communication channels to use? Why makes your company attractive?
“The reason these new players – startups and other disruptive companies – have such an impact is that they really focus all their strategic thinking and processes on their internal and end-clients.”
The new arrivals will have to face two challenges: how to achieve three-digit ROI and how to establish a quality relationship with their customers. These are questions traditional organisations already asked, but they saw it more as a dilemma: whereas they saw it in terms of “EITHER…OR”, the new players say “AND:” they understand that it’s precisely because they satisfy their clients – internal and external – that they’ll get ROI, and by collaborating with them and co-creating new products and services, relying on their expertise that they’ll increase their profits. They’ve actually reversed the prism!