The New Chief Connected Officer
Nov/Dec 2012
Gregg Garrett

As our lives continue to connect, the companies that surround us daily with everything from our morning coffee to the bed in which we fall asleep are making decisions on how they will participate in this connected evolution. For some, “connected” will be core to their strategy. To others, it will simply be an enabler of a new feature for their product or service. Regardless, each will decide who in the firm is ultimately entrusted with envisioning, planning, developing, and operating how their company, brand, products, and services will fit into the connected world. I have yet to see a single CEO come out with a C-level peer who focuses on this area—a ‘Chief Connected Officer,’ per se. So who is playing this role, and should our top executives consider a different model?

Fitting Connected into the Structure

As my good friend and colleague, Warren Ritchie, PhD, reminds me, a firm’s current structure (organizational, process, system, etc.) was at one time perfectly designed to implement the strategy (a strategy more than likely from the past). The problem is after that structure is formed, it becomes one of the biggest constraints to strategic change and growth.

In the period before a firm recognizes the significance of changes that are occurring, the firm often decides to make small changes to strategy without making significant changes in structure (organization, process, technology, etc.). This may be the state of many firms’ “connected” programs.

The connected programs witnessed in several industries are structured in many ways. The organizational alignments of connected programs are most often mapped to how the company is first exploring connectivity:

  • Firms see this as an extension of the product and therefore assign connected responsibilities to VPs of product management or engineering. 
  • Firms recognize it as a developing channel to communicate with their customers and typically assign responsibility to the CMO (chief marketing officer).
  • Other companies see the promise of connected as an internal differentiator that improves processes and lowers costs. These programs are typically entrusted to chief operating officers or support function leaders.
  • Of course, firms that see themselves as a “connected services” company playing a role as a supplier of services or technology could even have the CEO or head of strategy leading connectivity.

Perhaps the most common form of organization is management by committee. Here, many of the executive functions send middle-management representatives to the “connected committee” where they debate on topics from their own point of view. They often reach a middle ground that doesn’t move the needle too far out of any one department’s comfort zone.

Regardless of the form your firm has adopted thus far, you can rest assured that your industry does not yet have a standard model for governing “connected” programs.

Connected is transformational

All of this is quite natural for change inside of established organizations. The pace of change will be a derivative of the corporate culture’s acceptance for disruption. The real concern, for most firms, should be focused on whether or not they are looking at their role in a connected value chain through a holistic enough lens.

We see too often a firm’s “connected” program being too narrowly defined. It may include how to connect:

  • Its product
  • Its customer
  • Its supply chain
  • Its employee

But most of the time, there is no single program that unites all of these facets. This is most common in B2C product companies that focus many resources on “connecting” their product, but don’t see connecting consumers, or other “backoffice” functions with the same vigor. 

This is a “connected” recipe that often leads to fragmented development and a world of integration pain in the future!

The connected age is, by this author’s view, the next evolution beyond the “information” age. At minimum, it is the exponential accelerator that makes the information age radically different from the periods preceding it. It brings together so many major advancements—any one of which if judged alone is a major trend, but when assembled together have a compounding effect that will reshape our lives.

Should the CIO stand up? 

The building blocks of the “connected economy” are more than likely already being considered inside of your firm. They are at the heart of the modern-day CIO’s agenda. The thing is, many top IT leaders are treating each of these building blocks as separate initiatives and not as an integrated and transformational program leading to a connected platform. CIOs need to reposition so much of what they already have underway, and many corporations will find they are able to accelerate their connected reality.

Joining the brave CIO, who takes a step forward while many other IT leaders are standing still, is the motivated CEO. The adage that “it is lonely at the top” couldn’t be more true during this transition period. Most major advisors for top leadership, many of whom are part of well-recognized strategy consulting firms, understand the promise of the connected world, but aren’t pushing this advice yet.

They are putting their toes in the water with social-media practices and CMO-to-CIO forums. However, very few of them are actually broaching the sacred space of product-to-service conversations that could potentially reposition the chief information and chief technology officers to fulfill much more critical and senior roles within the organization.

The last time IT grew to such prominence in the corporate structure was the Y2K scare or the “ecommerce” movement (“brick and mortar” to “virtual”). As already discussed, “connected” is on a similar scale, if not more grandiose. A connected world both overlays a layer of relevant information-fed services on top of today’s processes, and also reformulates entire industries through disruptive innovation.

It is a shared responsibility to properly structure a change program. Technology leaders must ensure separate building-block programs are aligned to ensure a transformational technology and information platform effect. Executive management must also ensure “connected” is defined broadly enough to take a 360-degree view (product, employee, customer, etc.).

As CEOs sit back and finish reading Connected World this month, perhaps they need to reflect on two items: 1) Will their firm compete differently in the “connected age?” and 2) In such an age where information defines value, what should be the real measure of success for their chief information officer?

The answers to these questions may point to the most appropriate candidate for the new role
of the chief connected officer.


Gregg Garrett leads a team that advises clients on how to harness innovation in the connected economy as CEO and president of CGS Advisors. He lectures at several universities and contributes to Connected World. Previously, he served in chief strategy roles at Volkswagen Group of America and Deutsche Telekom in North America. He can be reached at greggory.garrett@cgsadvisors.com



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