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What's Really Different about Digital Innovation Initiatives?

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Sanja Tumbas
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Innovating with digital technologies is important for organizations in order to stay competitive in the market. Today, diverse actors drawing on multiple institutions drive such innovations, ranging from engineers, designers and customer facing units, far extending the scope of the IT function which used to lead digital efforts. Still, there is little research on how non-IT functions innovate with digital technologies. Using the lens of institutional logics and affordances, we examine case studies to address this research gap. We find that actors outside of the IT function innovate with digital technologies in various ways because depending on the combination of institutional logics they draw from - they recognize affordances of digital technologies differently.
In this study, we explore the role of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) through the perspectives of CDOs in thirty-five organizations. In enacting their emerging role, CDOs must navigate the existing institutionalized context of established information technology (IT) roles and respective jurisdictional claims. We find that CDOs intentionally draw on the term “digital” to distance themselves from existing executive roles in order to gain legitimacy. CDOs as institutional entrepreneurs take a focal role in both: (1) articulating and developing the emerging “digital” logic of action, and (2) enacting this digital logic through strategies such as grafting, bridging, and decoupling to navigate tensions between the existing and emerging approaches to innovation with digital technologies.