How a CDO can manage expectations, opportunities, and challenges

The ‘digital age’ is no longer a new concept, but its chief in the business arena has had less time to define and settle into their role. However, with the customer journey being more complex than ever and individuals now engaging with brands through a platitude of devices, the Chief Digital Officer is stepping out of the shadows and proving their value in organisations such as Aviva, Travelex, and Lastminute.com.

But is the relatively new role of the CDO a bit of a curse as well? Digital innovation is fast-moving and complex to manage. And while there are examples of brands creating amazing digital experiences, there are still challenges in moving from a waterfall to an agile testing process to release apps fast enough. The fact remains that old quality assurance (QA) methods are putting too many error-prone apps onto end-users' screens.

The expectations for today’s CDO are therefore sky-high. The CDO has been assigned the cross-functional task of both unifying business needs with technical capabilities and managing the fast delivery of high-quality mobile apps and website that help drive revenue. And as mobile payments, smartwatches, voice activation and virtual reality move from the sidelines to the mainstream, the stakes and complexity of the CDO’s role will only grow – but there are also ways that they can meet and be prepared for these challenges.

Keeping up with the market

The sharp CDO knows that the digital market waits for no one. Research firm Gartner expects releases of mobile operating systems to drop from 10 months to six months between cycles, and mobile device release frequency to go from 10 to eight months.

With the market demanding quicker release cycles, CDOs will need to steer DevTest teams to keep up with the market to remain competitive. It's not an option to tell customers that a service is only available in Chrome or that an app only works on Apple devices. As the facilitator of digital production, the CDO needs to embrace an agile approach to software development to deliver a new app version every few weeks that works on multiple devices and OSes. Simply put, CDOs need to be obsessed with keeping up with demands of the market, or risk watching the market roll on without them.

'Digital' means web and mobile

Long gone are the days where developing and testing for ‘digital’ followed the same practices as the traditional 'web' with its stable environments and infrequent browser updates. Today, the purpose of digital is to unite web and mobile assets and deliver a memorable, consistent user experience. However, the fragmented nature of mobile complicates the equation.

Mobile devices change frequently, are not always stable, and the nature of mobility means that the environment — where the user is am, what they’re doing and under what conditions — will always vary. It will be the CDO's job to make sure the customer has the same high-quality, digital experience on a desktop, a mobile browser and a mobile app.

New DevTest scenarios

Older QA methods are no longer able to keep up with the speed of digital, and CDOs are increasingly looking at how mobile cloud testing – with its remote access to devices and 24/7 availability — is better suited for today's app and web testing.

A cloud based testing lab can integrate tools like Visual Studio and Eclipse for building apps and Appium and Selenium for test automation, enabling remote teams to continuously release apps in a fast and agile way. The rise of digital has also given way to the ‘cloud test environment’ where QA teams perform both mobile performance testing and app monitoring for specific customer types (i.e. personas) in different geographies, running different devices under real world network conditions.

Outdated processes are a death knell for today’s CDO. It may seem convenient to buy and test manually on mobile devices in-house, but these costs add up. Physical device testing requires you to purchase each device, fix it if the screen cracks, update the device, ask IT to fix driver conflicts, and replace it if it's lost.

Just as it’s time to move on from slow and steady web development, CDOs can lead the charge to upgrade from the in-house testing lab to the cloud.

Staying ahead of both competition and end-users

The most dangerous aspect for the CDO to overlook is probably the changing face of the competition; disruption is happening in every industry. What Amazon has done to retail stores is happening in banking (PayPal), transportation (Uber), hospitality (Airbnb), and travel (Expedia). The CDO needs to keep a vigilant eye out for any digital disruptors out there with eyes on their market.

Digital channels make it very easy for consumers to move to an alternative. Customers are switching banks because the app is not performing well. They are switching airlines if they can book and manage their flight from end-to-end on one app. They are going to another retail store. The onus is on CDOs to analyse customer usage data (which devices, OSes and networks are customers using? How often do they open the app and how long are they staying?) and in turn work with DevTest teams to make sure identified customer desires make it into the next app release. And the one after that.

While CDOs will definitely face great expectations, they are also in a sweet spot where they will be able to help their organisations meet business needs and goals through their digital innovation. If they play their cards right and stay on top of the market challenges, the role of the CDO will be a blessing not a curse.

Yoram Mizrachi, CTO at Perfecto Mobile