"A lot of company leaders really don't understand digital very well," observes Calkins Media CDO Guy Tasaka, who has more than two decades of experience in advertising, strategy and planning, circulation and marketing for media and startup companies. Tasaka, who reports to his company's CEO, says chief digital officers "should have the future vision in mind and not be constrained by the technical or architectural limitations of the current company."
He elaborates, "CIOs and CTOs don't look at the core business. They look at the technology for technology's sake." As the CDO, Tasaka says, "My responsibility is public-facing technology, the mobiles, the online and everything that we are doing going forward. I won't do anything unless there is a revenue strategy and a sustainable revenue model. My job is to separate what will help Calkins strategically from what is just a shiny object that's cool."
Forbes Media: Building audience, increasing revenue
Michael Smith joined the Forbes Media Group 13 years ago and became its first CDO in 2010 when a new CEO came in and wanted to drive the importance of digital content. Smith, whose background was as a CTO, took on the task of looking at technologies inside the company and how they could be used to better promote its digital content, specifically to grow online readership at Forbes.com.
"As the CDO, I don't make technology decisions -- those are made throughout the organization," says Smith, who reports to the CEO and president of Forbes Media. "It's the CDO's job to support the adoption of these selections. The focus I have now is on revenue growth. It's far more of a business role."
By tracking new content management applications, online publishing systems and other digital innovations that can be used to create and deliver Forbes' digital content, Smith has been able to help grow the company's online audiences threefold since 2010, to more than 45 million unique users a month. "That's a dramatic increase in users," he says. "This stuff helps the company."
Columbia: Changing delivery of digital assets
At Columbia University in New York City, Sree Sreenivasan, a journalism and media professor at the school, also held the title of CDO beginning July 2012, reporting to the school's chief academic officer. His main responsibilities? To "address digital needs to be sure that the school is adjusting and morphing with all the changes that are happening" in the digital marketplace, he says.
Sreenivasan has been cataloguing and placing online two decades worth of media initiatives at Columbia (they used to send VCR tapes of classes to long-distance students in the late 1980s, he reports) and helping faculty, departments and schools learn more about online learning, along with social and digital media.
Columbia has offered online courses for more than a decade and distance learning since 1986, but those efforts typically have been decentralized inside the various schools, Sreenivasan explains. The goal today is to build a single site where all the online material -- from individual courses to entire programs of study -- can be easily found.
"Education is changing," said Sreenivasan. "We need someone to be looking at it centrally. That's my role. We are now trying new things."