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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.
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Digital Innovation and Institutional Entrepreneurship:
Chief Digital Officer Perspectives of their Emerging Role*
Sanja Tumbas
IESE Business School
University of Navarra
Barcelona, Spain
Nicholas Berente
Terry College of Business
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia, USA
Jan vom Brocke
Institute of Information Systems
University of Liechtenstein
Vaduz, Liechtenstein
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.
Keywords: Digital innovation, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Information Officer, Institutional
entrepreneurship, Institutional logics, Logics of action, Organizational tensions, Grafting, Bridging,
* Forthcoming at Journal of Information Technology
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Digital Innovation and Institutional Entrepreneurship:
Chief Digital Officer Perspectives of their Emerging Role
In recent years, the word “digital” is pervasive in the organizational discourse. Organizational scholars and
practitioners are increasingly concerned with digital innovation (Fichman et al. 2014; Lee and Berente
2012; Yoo et al. 2010), digital business strategy (Bharadwaj et al. 2013; Sawyaradaj et al. 2013), digital
transformation (Lucas et al. 2013), digital platforms and infrastructures (Tilson et al. 2010; Tiwana et al.
2010), and digital ubiquity (Iansiti and Lakhani 2014). This term “digital,” as opposed to the long-
established “information technology” (IT), is used to signify that something is different (McDonald and
Rowsell-Jones 2012; Tumbas et al. 2015). Digital innovation is not only important to technology companies
and IT departments, but is more and more critical to every industry and every functional unit (Grossman
2016; Yoo et al. 2010). Consequently, an increasing diversity of organizational actors use digital
technologies to drive innovation, often in ways that go beyond the traditional capabilities of their IT
departments. For example, organizations digitize their products (Nambisan et al. 2017; Nylén and
Holmström 2015), embed software based technologies in physical products (Henfridsson et al. 2014), and
analyze “big data” for customer profiling (Müller et al. 2016; Tambe 2014).
In response to this trend, some organizations have introduced a new leadership role the Chief Digital
Officer (CDO,” Qualtrough 2016; Rickards et al. 2015). Since the new role is still emerging, it means
different things to different organizations. As such, the role of CDO receives quite a bit of attention due to
the possible overlaps and tensions that it may have with existing executive roles (Dyché 2015). Although
they innovate with digital technologies, CDOs often do not rely on established norms, scripts and
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established institutionalized practices of the information technology (IT) profession (Applegate and Elam
1992; Avgerou 2000). The IT profession, and the associated executive role of the Chief Information Officer
(CIO), is the institutionalized domain that generally holds jurisdiction over innovation with digital
technologies. Conflict over legitimate jurisdictional claims are at the heart of professional formation and
survival (Abbott 1988; Bechky 2003; Kahl et al. 2016). Therefore, we pose the following question:
How do CDOs establish a legitimate domain around innovation with digital technologies in an
organizational context with pre-existing, well-established IT roles and related jurisdictional claims?
The purpose of this exploratory study is to investigate how CDOs in different organizations make sense of,
legitimize, and enact this nascent role. To do so, we conduct 35 exploratory interviews with CDOs in a
variety of industries. We sought to understand how they make sense of their roles in their respective
organizations, and how they go about integrating this role into the pre-existing organizational context. We
find that CDOs act as a form of “institutional entrepreneur” (Garud et al. 2002) drawing on and constructing
an emerging logic of action (DiMaggio 1997). Viewing CDOs as institutional entrepreneurs allows us to
unpack the two related aspects of the emergent role: (1) the development and articulation of its logic of
action, and (2) the identification of approaches to dealing with the existing institutionalized context. To
legitimize their role and mobilize resources, CDOs contrast their logic of action with that of existing,
institutionalized roles such as the CIO. They draw this contrast across five dimensions: focus of control,
value orientation, goal achievement, value chain location, and reference industry. Beyond this conceptual
distinction, CIOs have different approaches to enacting their role through diverse types of interaction with
existing professions. We refer to these approaches as grafting, bridging, and decoupling.
As background for our study, we next describe (a) the IT profession as an institutional field, and (b) the
CDO role as institutional entrepreneurs. This is followed by our exploratory study and findings. We
conclude with a reflection on institutional entrepreneurship through the perspectives of CDOs and their
relationships with CIOs.
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Professions are institutions in that they have established ceremonies, rules, certifications and other material
practices (Friedland and Alford 1991; Jepperson 1991; Thornton et al. 2012). The IT profession is an
established institution (Avgerou 2000; Brooks et al. 2011), complete with all the requisite trappings, such
as norms, scripts, certifications and standard operating procedures, that together form the abstracted body
of knowledge necessary for persistence of a profession (Abbott 1988). IT professionals have well-
established practices for dealing with software, for example everything from the evaluation and
implementation of off-the-shelf software (ERP, CRM, etc.) to an abundance of proven techniques for
software development (Hardgrave et al. 2003; Todd et al. 1995). The craft of software development
involves a set of methodologies and notations (Moore 1979; Zmud 1980), requirements elicitation practices
(Karlsson and Hedström 2013), reusability guidelines (Banker and Kauffman 1991; Sojer and Henkel
2010), and other established practices. Some methods, such as agile software development or prototyping
evolved from previous practices and are now well-accepted (Batra et al. 2010).
Professions apply their abstracted body of knowledge to a particular domain what is typically referred to
as the jurisdiction of the profession (Abbott 1988). The jurisdiction of the IT profession has historically
been innovation with IT in organizations. The accumulated expertise of the IT profession has the benefit of
decades of professional experience that guide efforts in systems development, implementation, and
governance (Agarwal and Sambamurthy 2002; Guillemette and Pare 2012). The CIO is the leadership role
that orchestrates these activities (Benjamin et al. 1985; Peppard et al. 2011). CIOs help organizations to
take advantage of new capabilities in the information age with all of the changes brought by the Internet
(Applegate and Elam 1992; Ross and Feeny 1999). In some cases, innovative CIOs are essential for guiding
organizational strategy (Ross and Feeny 1999), but in other cases CIOs and their respective IT functions
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are removed from strategic decision making in organization and can be treated as a cost-center (Applegate
and Elam 1992; Benjamin et al. 1985).
Currently, organizations in virtually every industry are looking to embrace what is referred to as “digital
innovation (Grossman 2016; Svahn et al. 2017). Various departments and professions outside of the IT
function are increasingly involved in innovation with digital technologies, including marketing (Day 2011;
Royle and Laing 2014) and human resource units (Purvis 2015). Since digital technologies have historically
fallen under the jurisdiction of the CIO, this can result in institutional contradictions and tensions (Seo and
Creed 2002). Units that are new to taking such a proactive role in digital innovation do not necessarily draw
upon the institutionalized principles, values, and approaches of the IT profession (Tumbas et al. 2015). In
some situations, these groups circumvent the CIO with their innovations, and in other situations, they enlist
the aid of the CIO. In a number of cases a new executive position has been created the CDO to deal
explicitly with digital innovation. As with other cases of emerging executive roles, this could result in power
struggles as executives make conflicting jurisdictional claims, as well as institutional contradictions as
different executives refer to their respective professional fields in guiding their activity (Fligstein 1990).
Such contestation between emerging and existing executive roles is not without precedent in the history of
corporate control. For example, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) predated Chief Marketing Officers
(CMOs) in corporate boardrooms. But CMOs who had a fundamentally different view of organizational
strategy (Fligstein 1990) - carved out a jurisdiction for themselves over a period of time. In hindsight one
that is clearly distinct and legitimate, but this strategic legitimacy had to be established over time. There
was a period in-between when organizations were diffusing the CMO role and it was gaining legitimacy.
It was a “liminal” period in the emergence of the new role. Henfridsson and Yoo (2014) describe the liminal
phase as ambiguous because in this time the “new possible innovation trajectory is not fully formed but
coexists side-by-side with established trajectories” (p. 937).
To describe the transitional period of change where new executive roles attempt to carve out a jurisdictional
space in an existing, well-established context, we draw on the institutional entrepreneurship perspective.
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Institutional entrepreneurs are leaders who take a central role in episodes of institution building (Battilana
et al. 2009). In doing so, they depart from the existing templates, or “logics” of organizing that prevail in
the domain (Henfridsson and Yoo 2014; Seo and Creed 2002). Because they often break from existing
logics in creating a new domain around digital innovation, CDOs can be thought of as a form of institutional
Executives occupy influential positions in organizations that grant them abundant access to resources
(Battilana 2006; Fligstein 1990), and thus the potential to initiate and actively participate in transforming
existing institutions. Essentially, they are well positioned to become institutional entrepreneurs (Battilana
et al. 2009; Hardy and Maguire 2008) and execute their vision relying on a variety of strategies (Henfridsson
and Yoo 2014; Seo and Creed 2002). They enact this change by drawing on alternative institutional logics
from those that are dominant in their fields.
Institutional logics can be defined as “a set of goals, values, and prescriptions associated with a specific
institution” (Berente and Yoo 2012, p. 378). Institutions refer to social structure that persist over time and
are anchored in specific cultural perspectives and discursive domains (i.e. vocabularies). As indicated
above, professions such as the IT profession are oft-cited examples of institutions (Friedland and Alford
1991; Jepperson 1991; Thornton et al. 2012). Every institution has a central logic reflected in its material
practices and symbolic constructions, which is available for organizations and individuals to draw upon
(Friedland and Alford 1991). Professions, as a form of institutions, therefore, have their particular
institutional logics (Thornton et al. 2012, p. 56).
Institutional entrepreneurship is marked by transition a liminal phase where multiple logics coexist and
new institutional orders can arise from resolution of conflict among competing logics (Henfridsson and
Yoo 2014). The emerging logic in the field of practice results in a logic of action (DiMaggio 1997) that is
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not yet institutionalized. Such logics manifest when parties act in ways without well-established scripts for
behavior and then try to justify or make sense of these actions with respect to the rationale, or “models”
behind certain ends and the means they use to bring them about (Bacharach et al. 1996, p. 478). Institutional
entrepreneurs bring about change by providing such alternative models to mobilize resources to challenge
existing structures (Seo and Creed 2002). “Logics of action refer to the implicit relationship between
means and goals that is assumed by organizational actors and guides their actions. These logics draw upon
“culturally available schemataknowledge structures that represent objects or events and provide default
assumptions about their characteristics, relationships, and entailments under conditions of incomplete
information(DiMaggio 1997, p. 269). According to this view, culture provides a background of nested
schemata that interact with situational stimuli in context, to result in particular actions (DiMaggio 1997).
Distinct parts of organizations have different cultures (e.g. Marketing and IT Departments, see Leonardi
2011) and these cultures provide a way of viewing and thinking about situations, as well as guidelines for
appropriate actions. Individual or group identities are central to practices which become a part of the cultural
script (Weber and Dacin 2011). The more the individuals identify with certain cultural domains, the more
they will draw upon the cultural resources and logics of action for those domains.
CDOs develop alternative models of social arrangements. To do so they need to draw upon existing cultural
resources to mobilize changes (Seo and Creed 2002). The emerging “digital” logics of action are central to
this liminal period for organizations - when the existing logics coexist with the emerging one (Henfridsson
and Yoo 2014; Seo and Creed 2002). We look to identify how CDOs, as institutional entrepreneurs,
navigate this liminal period in both articulating and enacting their role.
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4.1. Research Approach
We are interested in how CDOs drive digital innovation efforts and how they reconcile their new role with
existing institutional arrangements. Therefore, this research is exploratory and seeks to generate theoretical
insights rather than test theory (Flick 2009). Our strategy of inquiry involves interviews with executives
(Creswell 2012) who are responsible for innovation with digital technologies in organizations. The goal is
to learn how these executives perceive their role, and how they describe and enact this role in relation to
the existing professionals. Since not every organization has a separate function driving digital initiatives,
we sampled only those organizations that explicitly created such a new organizational arrangement through
the establishment of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and an associated distinct organizational unit (Gerring
2006). In this effort, we conducted 35 primary (and 3 follow up) interviews with CDOs and one with the
early founder of a CDO-related community. The research design emerged as the research progressed, but
overall two key features marked our research approach: it is empirically grounded and highly iterative
(Seidel and Urquhart 2013) subsequent questioning emerged from previous interviews and our findings
came from the perspectives of the informants which are rooted in their lived experiences.
4.2. Data Collection and Analysis
We collected data during June to October 2015 and October to November 2016. We interviewed CDOs
from a variety of industries (see Table 1 for an overview). Since most industries are heavily impacted by
digital innovations (Grossman 2016), we sampled for a broad range of industries including media, financial
services, manufacturing, not-for-profit organizations and others. In Table 1 the time spent at a CDO position
is listed in reference to the date when the interview took place. At the time of our interviews, most CDOs
were rather new in this role.
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Table 1. Data Sample
CDO name
Industry sector
FinancialServ 1
Banking, finance, and insurance
FinancialServ 2
Banking, finance, and insurance
FinancialServ 3
Banking, finance, and insurance
FinancialServ 4
Banking, finance, and insurance
FinancialServ 5
Banking, finance, and insurance
Manufacturing 1
Manufacturing and engineering
Manufacturing 2
Manufacturing and engineering
Manufacturing 3
Manufacturing and engineering
Manufacturing 4
Manufacturing and engineering
Manufacturing 5
Manufacturing and engineering
ArtRelated 1
ArtRelated 2
Art Related 3
Leadership education
HighEd 1
HighEd 2
RetailOrg 1
RetailOrg 2
RetailOrg 3
RetailOrg 4
Retail and manufacturing
SoftwareCom 1
SoftwareCom 2
MediaPub 1
News publishing
MediaPub 2
News publishing
MediaPub 3
Specialized publisher
MediaPub 4
Specialized publisher
MediaPub&TV 5
News publishing and broadcasting
MediaTV 7
TV broadcasting
MediaAdvert 8
MediaAdvert 9
MediaAdvert 10
Online tourism
Interviews centered on three open-ended questions: (1) Why did the organization create the CDO role? (2)
What are the activities of the CDO office? (3) What are the outcomes associated with the CDO role? These
initially formulated research questions were tentative and allowed for emergence of additional relevant
topics (Charmaz 2006; Seidel and Urquhart 2013). Our theoretical lens (institutional entrepreneurship and
logics) emerged during the research to provide the basic vocabulary and an associated set of assumptions
(Klein and Myers 1999). The analysis of the interviews occurred iteratively to allow for new insights after
each interview. We were looking for similarities and differences between each interview (Urquhart 2013).
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The two key themes evolved around characterizing the digital logic and the process by which organizations
enact the role in organizations. CDOs insisted on having responsibilities that are different from those
assigned to the existing leader responsible for innovation with digital technologies (usually the CIO). Also,
most organizations had existing IT departments, thus we further asked: (4) What is the difference between
“IT” and “digital”? (5) How do you delineate your responsibilities from the existing IT unit? The distinction
between the CDO and the CIO became a core focus for many of the interviews and was clearly a concern
for the informants.
The two key themes centered around the establishment of the digital logic and the efforts directed towards
carving out space in the organizations. The findings are presented in two related sections:
(1) CDO organizations articulate consistent “logics of action in defining their professional space. They
contrast their responsibilities to those of the IT professionals (particularly the CIO). This is one of the most
important dimensions that appeared early in the analysis and described the meaning CDOs attached to
“digital” as opposed to “IT.” The interviewees used the term “digital” to signal that it is different than “IT”
intentional distancing what they do from the way their organizations viewed IT. Certainly the two terms
are used differently, but the goal was to understand how they interpreted that difference in terms of the
experience of organizational actors (Klein and Myers 1999) and how they approached innovation with
digital technologies. We describe five dimensions along which CDOs distinguish their logic of action.
(2) CDOs encounter the jurisdiction of the existing IT profession, especially in large established
organizations. Thus, their major task is to navigate the existing jurisdictional boundaries as they enact their
role. We identified three general approaches to how they reconciled their activity with that of the IT
profession. None of the CDOs in our sample started from a clean slate in each case the digital logic was
emerging and facing the predominant way that organizations dealt with IT.
Broadly, the why question allowed us to develop themes around categories related to “focus of management
control” and “position in value chain.” When CDOs described their primary activities, we learned how they
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address their goals. Thus, relevant categories that emerged from the analysis were “goal achievement” and
“reference industry” emerged as relevant. Finally, by asking about outcomes we tapped into the concrete
results or planned results. These were reflected in the “value orientation” category.
5.1. CDO Perspectives: “Digital” Logic of Action
CDOs draw on distinct prescriptions for appropriate behavior in innovating with digital technologies. To
justify their professional practices, CDOs often contrast their role to the existing institutionalized function
of IT professional. According to the interviews, the role of IT” (as opposed to “digital”) is typically said
to fall under the jurisdiction of the CIO (or CTO) and the IT functions in the organization. Respondents
described IT in terms of focusing on the fundamentals to sustainability, ensuring the organization is
running effectively, smoothly, efficientlyIT is helping the business run itself, looking at data protection,
data security (CDO, ForStudents).”
From the CDO perspective, the IT logic was related to security, reliability, and standardization, and was
usually associated with hardware, software, and networking, and enterprise information systems (such as
ERP and CRM), which made up a huge portion of many of the organizational budgets. The IT logic was
characterized in terms of process improvement, streamlining operations and effective, reliable and secure
functioning of the organization.
Even though different organizations enact the CDO role differently, CDOs distanced themselves from this
conception of IT pointing out that “digital” is a distinct domain. Many of the CDOs pointed to a space
between IT and Marketing as their unique jurisdiction: one of the interesting things is that we did have a
CMO and we do have a CIO, so really carving out that territory between the two of them (CDO, ArtRelated
2). Regardless, they all fundamentally distinguished their role from that of the CIO. We identified five
dimensions along which CDOs distinguished their logic from the CIO: (1) Focus of management control;
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(2) Value orientation; (3) Goal achievement; (4) Reference industry; (5) Position in the value chain (Table
Table 2. The CDO’s Perspective: Five Dimensions Characterizing the “Digital” Logic of Action
Key findings
Focus of management control
Key concerns and structures that
direct the execution of values and
Initiating new projects triggered by and
rooted in digital technologies is the
primary goal in the “digital” frame. New
initiatives are the core concern of the
CDO and the projects span various
departments and areas of the
organization. Accompanying the focus
on newness, there is a balancing act and
it is necessary to synch with existing IT
Value orientation
Core outcomes and standards that
guide the accomplishment of goals.
Generating revenue streams through the
deployment of digital technologies is the
source of immediate and sustained goal.
Each strategic step needs to contribute
and be aligned with the overall goal to
generate revenue. The CDO aims at
displaying the value of digital
technologies as a platform for revenue
streams in different departments in the
Goal achievement
The means to accomplish goals by
adopting certain approaches and
The basic working modes include heavy
experimentation with digital content,
service or device layers of digital
technologies. The projects are smaller
scale, short iteration cycles. Also, the
digital script suggests that the
organization rely on existing digital
platforms and equally regards own and
externally controlled digital resources.
Reference field
The field of practice in which the
logic is rooted.
The startup field is closely related to a
domain that is supportive of newness,
latest technological developments, lean
and fast scaling. However, in some cases
the organization is mature and needs to
develop solid foundations for
collaborating with startups instead of
imitating their working mode.
Location in value chain
Assumptions about the appropriate
function and role of an organization
with respect to the functions and roles
of partnering organizations.
The location in the value chain is
following the principle of being close to
the customer and developing a direct
digitally supported relation with the
customer. Customer facing also implies a
mindset adopting the “outside-in”
perspective on the organization.
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(1) Focus of Management Control One commonality across all CDOs is that they emphasized, in some
form or another, how they dealt with an uncertain, changing domain rather than a well-known or well-
understood domain. CDOs started new projects and coordinated these initiatives in a strategic manner,
and communicated the need for organizations to be open to and incorporate open-ended innovation:
We need to create a clear, unambiguous digital strategy that supports the digital growth agenda that
everybody in the organization can understand...I believe everything has to drive value and every single,
even down to a release, every single released code I will do, whether original website or a piece of
software, we have to measure the values they create and hold people accountable on it (CDO,
Manufacturing 4).
Even though the focus on setting up new projects predominated the interviews, CDOs made it a part of their
mission to develop connecting links between ongoing projects and new digital initiatives. As described by
the CDO of RetailOrg 1, her goal was to establish a center which leads strategy:
[The CEO] didn't even know what was the title that he wanted, but he knew he had a problem with
developing a digital strategy for his organization. He had tried, but it wasn't successful, and he needed
somebody at the group executive committee level to build a strategy for the group and work with
everybody in the organization to do this (CDO, RetailOrg 1).”
Every CDO that we interviewed emphasized the strategic relevance of their activity. They often contrasted
this with operationally focused IT departments. CDOs indicated that the IT logic involved operational
integration often associated with the classic tasks of the IT professional around system implementation
and support. They characterized CIO behavior as structured by established patterns of activity, well-
established through norms of the IT profession. One of these norms involves the responsibilities of the IT
professional in the organization, which is focused on optimization of the ongoing business tasks and
integration of systems. CDOs pointed out that there was typically a well-established way of designing,
implementing and monitoring these initiatives, which accounted for this difference in focus for CIOs and
the IT function:
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I see information technology largely as an infrastructure topic because you always have your IT teams
and your IT groups that are very focused on the infrastructure to facilitate the technology (CDO,
(2) Value Orientation - Describes where the essential contribution of the CDO’s team lies. According to
CDOs, their organizations primarily focused on new revenue streams increasing the “top line”
performance of a company. This was their primary function in the organization and the vocabulary that
they adopted accordingly was one of business models:
How much are they challenging our business model, our revenue models, our go to market? I think
these are most of the discussions I am having at the moment. That's why I also think that the scope of
digital transformation overall and then also my role is much more on the business side than on the IT
side (CDO, FinancialServ 4).
Value orientation is tightly linked to role centrality which triggers organizational actors to evoke a certain
schema when taking responsibility in their roles. For example, CDOs often started projects thinking in
terms of their direct impact using available data to justify their assumptions and further motivate the
strategic relevance of the project:
“I report to the public affairs person and to the head of development because I also thought it was very
important when I took the CDO role to have a foothold in the revenue generating arm for the University
(CDO, HighEd 1).
While CDOs identified with the strong emphasis on increasing revenues, they described CIOs as
traditionally more focused on internal systems and technology focused on the efficient streamlining of
business processes. The CDO of a large retail chain firm explained how the IT department is organized to
reduce costs and keep them low, and in many organizations the IT organization is treated as a cost center:
You have to understand the entire idea of bringing products to market, deliveries, supply chains,
customer service, marketing, sales, customer onboarding, all that kinds of stuff. CIO doesn't really
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have that horizontal view, right? The CIO is really set up to manage information systems and keep
everything running (CDO, RetailOrg 1).”
(3) Goal Achievement CDOs indicated that the process through which they achieved their innovative
goals involved experimentation as a central feature. Experimentation aimed to break down tasks in
smaller units and run pilot projects and test those pilots, learn from them, and iterate before committing
to a major roll out. The CDO of a media organization described this experimental mode of goal
In addition, what I've done here that is really cool is that as we have a lot of new technologyThe
learning process on this new era is endless. So what I have done also in our lab is everything that is
new, we have there… the whole team gets in there. They explain how it works and try to create solutions
for our clients who use the new technology. So instead of saying, "Well there is a google glass that I
don't know how to use," we get it there and we say, "Use it. Try to imagine how we can make it…
understand how it works, and create solutions based on the experience (CDO, MediaAdvert 10).”
Applications developed through this approach often run as beta versions for extended periods of time with
the expectation that elements of the application (such as interfaces) will change frequently. A manufacturing
CDO points out how they needed to create open-ended applications structured in a way that tolerates risk
using the example of social media applications:
Social media is a very tricky one because they have their own language, their own platforms […]
they're also extremely sensitive from a corporate communication standpoint because things can go very
wrong. From that thing we made sure that we build a system that essentially gave us more freedom and
freedom to experiment in those areas that are less dangerous. We are isolated and I told my counterpart
from a communication standpoint that it's not that everything is at the same level of risk (CDO,
Manufacturing 3).”
One of the CDOs described this working mode as “running beta version”:
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“I take almost everything as a beta, let's get up and running within three months. Only through that
process do you determine what works and what doesn't (CDO, HighEd 2).
Often professional experiences of CDOs had their roots in startups or highly dynamic environments:
“It's mainly empowering people. Making them feel like they can do new things. That's exciting for the
museum. Giving them permission to try things. To fail. To do more things. Those are all things that
require a lot of effort (CDO, ArtRelated 1).
The respondents characterized CIOs, on the other hand, in terms of operational integration that is more risk-
averse and less entrepreneurial than CDOs.
“Again, if I want to compete with the external entrepreneurial startup incubator ecosystem, I've got to
be playing by the same set of rules. One of those rules is how do I optimize my supply chain to be using
the latest and greatest version of the innovation […] However the integration is a part of the CIOs
responsibility (CDO, SoftwareCom 1).
(4) The Reference Field To guide their logics of action CDOs used the field of technology startups and
digital giants such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. CDOs universally took these organizations as a
reference point, and they strongly identified with them, their activities were guided by principles such as:
fast execution, digital in the heart of the strategy, scaling initiatives iteratively, avoiding much bureaucracy,
etc. The CDO wanted to “go down to New York City and Silicon Valley and bring back the best technology
that [can be found] to help advance our digital. We were one of the first to use Heart Beat, which is real
time monitoring (CDO, HighEd 1).” Another CDO, in a media company described their working mode by
comparing it to startups:
We are trying to discover every day, what is it that has to be done. So imagine the start-ups. The way
they work is they understand that what the consumers or the people need, and when they see this, they
see an opportunity and they develop something to fulfill this need. That's exactly what we do (CDO,
MediaAdvert 10).”
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In established organizations, this startup mentality can manifest through relationships with startups. For
example, the CDO of a healthcare organization highlighted that their goal is not to join the “Googles and
Watsons of the world”, because that is not their key competence, but rather, to partner with them. Such
CDOs were more selective about developing internal digital capabilities and instead build relationships
with appropriate external providers:
The reason is if we're going to bring those advanced analytics and digital capabilities in house, it
would be very difficult to stay competitive. Whereas if we're partnering with the Googles of this world
or the Watson IBMs of this world, they have to be the best because otherwise they'll lose their
customers. Our strategy is […] to really partner with the best people in smart ways. That will be our
approach to capabilities (CDO, HealthRelated).”
In stark contrast to this startup mentality, CDOs typically characterized their IT unit as core to ongoing
operations. As such, IT units needed to focus on a rigorous process of systematic evaluation and
methodological implementation to ensure strong implementation outcomes. This typically required longer
planning horizons:
The traditional IT organization in our structure was absolutely not able to take some projects and
deliver in a very fast-pace, with some small budget, on-time and agile and do it and redo it and so on
the entire structure is totally opposed to being agile (CDO, Manufacturing 2).
(5) Position in the Value Chain According to CDOs, digital was about customer facing processes and
set emphasis on the end customer as both the receiver of digital services or products and the source for
further insights. It was crucial to become the first contact point and platform between relevant customers
and business partners:
“Compared to the previous business model - there is a very different approach to accessibility of our
programs…if you're a university student or a company, you would have to sign up with our organization
and pay before you saw any types of opportunities or talent. The difference now is - it is very much like
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a social network. You can almost compare to LinkedIn where all of our opportunities and all of our
people are now openly available to see for anyone, anywhere. Instead of paying before you see
opportunities, and the value part is you would see this right away (CDO, ForStudents).
Even when CDOs led internal initiatives, they translated their goals to reflect the “outside-in view” of the
organization. For example, when organizing digital competencies in the organization, teams were
assembled in a way to generate immediate impact for external customers. There was less fear attached to
the exposure of the organization on digital platforms, not backing off from directly reaching out to the
customer through digital channels, etc. The goal is to “get something into the hands of consumers as early
as possible and start learning [together with the customer] (CDO, MediaPub 2).” Here, CDOs often used
examples to describe how their responsibility differed from that of an IT department. Especially describing
an image where IT was the back office, while digital worried more about the front end:
“If you're like most financial service companies the number one impediment to being able to execute
in digital would be that your core systems, your operating systems, your processing systems, your
financial systems don't play well with the web. They're not API enabled. You can't build digital front
ends that communicate easily with them, right? I think a lot of larger companies they build these digital
front ends and they fake it in the back end (CDO, FinancialServ 3).
CDOs depict the IT unit in terms of the back-end far from the customer: [the CIO is] generally
focus[ing] on internal technology. The robustness of our email systems, our data storage, etc (CDO,
Manufacturing 1).” In addition, the CDO of another manufacturing organization described the complexity
of the IT mission:
IT is running all the hosting activities, because they run the whole thing for the whole services, all the
cloud services, internal services, accounting they also run hosting for our sites (CDO,
Manufacturing 3).
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In sum both digital and IT areas of an organization look to innovate with digital technologies, but do so
according to much different logics. It is not always clear which unit has jurisdiction and in what way over
a particular initiative, nor is it clear how historical decisions around architecture, infrastructure, and
technology roadmaps play out in the enactment of the CDO role.
5.2. CDO Approaches to Navigating Tensions
CDOs reported a variety of approaches for navigating the tensions with existing departments that arise
when the digital logic of action is confronted with other logics in the organizations. The IT function is
particularly important, since both the digital and IT functions essentially serve to drive innovation with
digital technologies in the organization, so the jurisdiction of each unit and the logics they bring to bear on
the approach to innovation can blur. We characterize three general approaches that CDOs we interviewed
describe to mobilize resources and create a space for their emergent role in contexts of opposing logics: (1)
grafting, (2) bridging, and (3) decoupling (see Table 3).
Table 3. Three Approaches for Navigating Tensions in “Digital” vs. “IT” Logics of action
Grafting enables the digital initiative
by tightly linking these new practices
and capabilities with an existing
functional unit.
New digital practices in several
departments, teams with mixed
competencies acting towards a
common goal
Cost intensive, time consuming, the
“digital” unit acts against its core
identity create new value streams,
direct impact, experimentation
Bridging involves establishing links
between existing functional units to
achieve a new digital initiative.
Triggers restructuring of existing
executive roles and thereby a new
collaborative working mode,
overcomes silos
Initial power struggles, temporally
Decoupling describes how new
digital initiatives are separated and
insulated from the existing
functional units to achieve a new
digital initiative.
Fast execution of the digital logic,
easy identification of members with
the goals
Lacking integration with existing
structures, no sufficient
consideration of existing IT
governance policies, culture of
“lone warriors”
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(1) Grafting enables organizations to embark on new digital projects by aligning those projects closely to
existing organizational functions. In a sense, this involves aligning and incorporating the two units to work
together in a way that accommodates the institutional logic of existing units with the emerging digital logic
of action of the CDO. For example, the CDO of MediaPub 2 describes how the digital department is
organized with a cost reduction focus to avoid competition with the other departments for the budget and
establish transparent distribution of responsibility:
“[We are organized as a cost center], and this is one of the very important things [] because in this
business, if I would have been a profit center or managing a profit center with digital activities, then I
think from the core business [] I would be seen as a competitor. There would be no incentive for them
to change the core business [] because then their logic would be, "Now digital, it's with the CDO, so
I don't have to do anything with digital because it's his job. If he fails, it's not my problem (CDO,
MediaPub 2).
The main idea is that the other departments “pull” the services from the digital department the CDO
group supports them. This may seem very similar to the usually depicted role of the IT department.
However, the team is infusing the “digital” logic to many areas of the organization through temporarily
tightly coupled activities of the digital team with other teams in the organization. The CDO applies
“digital” methodological frames while working with many diverse functions such as the IT department,
editorial teams as well as the management board. These new activities involve agility, multidisciplinary
teams, digital content creation and others. Gradually, the core activity in the editorial teams, has also
changed significantly. The creation of editorial content is accompanied with principles for reusing data
and also using a diversity of tools to report the stories in an interactive fashion:
Then there's the editorial teams, of course, that I also work with, and I try to hand them all kinds of
tools that they can use to actually change the way that they do reporting. I help them to point out tools
where they can build an interactive story fast and easily, help them to work with data journalism, if I
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see a data set that has become available that's something that they can leverage to build a new story
(CDO, MediaPub 2).”
This tight linkage goes in both directions not only does the digital organization accommodate elements
of the existing functions, but it also works to incorporate its practices within those functions. Often this
process is accompanied with hiring new employees that have certain digital competencies. For example,
the CDO of a bank described the new requirements that where more aligned with the “digital” logic:
“In the operations group or what's now the customer experience group, we're changing the way we
recruit, we're changing what we expect of people, and we're changing the overall skill mix of that
group.” (CDO, FinancialServ 3)
This can result in a blend between existing and new principles reflected in smaller teams, mixed
“We create a team to work on those projects, so we call those squads in the same way that Spotify uses
that term. What we do is we create that central team of skills from the organization (CDO,
Grafting requires a long term vision, that can result in fundamentally different modes of work, as
organizations reconcile multiple logics of action. For example, the CDO of a media and newspaper
company mentioned that the pace of work is no longer “to the hour” as in traditional print news. Content is
produced for various channels and the organization needs to approach this strategically:
Basically, you are publishing news all day, so you don't have this process where you are working
towards one time of the day where everything needs to be ready. That's weird, and people have to get
used to that, and you need to start thinking about what you are going to break on your website and
what you want to have in your newspaper (CDO, MediaPub 2).
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Despite the benefits of laying a solid ground for more long-term success in transforming the organization
to incorporate more digital practices, some CDOs also describe how a typical “digital person” perceives
this pace as rather slow and traditional:
Exactly. To me, it's always slow, because I'm a digital person and it's always too slow. (laughs). But
at the end of the day there's no discussion on the need, but they [the other departments] don't feel it
as urgent as I think it should be on a day-to-day basis (CDO, RetailOrg 1).”
Grafting is but one way that CDOs enact their role with respect to existing organizational functions.
(2) Bridging involves tactics to span two or more existing functions. In contrast to grafting, bridging
involves reconciling logics in a way that does not blend or merge those logics, but instead focuses on
linking distinct organizational units, yet maintaining that distinction in the respective domains. In cases
of bridging, it is often the CDO function itself that acts as a boundary spanner between two other domains
such as between the CIO (or CTO) and CMO. For example, the CDO of ArtRelated 2 explains how
there is no solid line between the activities of these executives and how they need to work together:
“… chief digital officer is kind of that bridge between the two [i.e. IT and Marketing], and if they start
working well together, then your role goes away because both of those people are highly digitally
capable, but they don't need the intermediary anymore (CDO, ArtRelated 2).
During bridging the CDOs act as a lynch pin. This is how the CDO of an educational organization explains
the role as linking the core process and the IT department. In this case, the core process is related to
communication and the IT department takes care of the infrastructure:
“I'm really a lynch pin between the two. There's someone whose job it is to do public affairs and
communications […] also inbound communication. We are in the media every minute of the day. If
seventeen similar organizations could be questioned about issue X, our organization will lead the story
in the New York Times. So, one department is focus is much more media relations and inbound. […]
while IT, their focus is very much on infrastructure and security (CDO, HighEd 2).”
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Another CDO of a media company describes a similar situation in which the established relation with
existing chief roles is crucial:
“That's pretty much my responsibility. I have a commercial responsibility and an editorial
responsibility, but the journalists are reporting to the Editor in Chief and the sales reps are reporting
into the Chief Commercial Officer. I have a small staff who's running the websites and doing digital
projects, but I'm very much relying on other chief roles people. (CDO, MediaPub 1)
In a temporal sense, once digital practices are enacted by the other departments, the need for the CDO role
may vanish, as this was emphasized in a number of interviews:
“I see myself as a transitional figure that maybe the term Chief Digital Officer doesn't exist in ten years
when everybody has become digital, but, right now, the role is to push things forward and make sure
that our knowledge of the latest things happening within digital are internalized within our company.
The journalists, they work full time producing content, sales reps work full-time selling ad words and
ads. There's really nobody who's having the look on our future business models. That's the role I have
now.” (CDO, MediaPub 1)
However, as was also emphasized during many interviews, the bridging role emerges because it is difficult
to change what existing units have historically done. In some organizations this is deemed “impossible”:
The best you can do is to say, all right let's talk marketing or let's talk communication or let's talk
strategy. What is the digital aspect of your profession? An idea that you transform everyone and make
them understand what Twitter is about is just silly. It's not silly. It would be great but it's just impossible.
CDO, Manufacturing 5)
Thus, some bridging CDOs think of themselves as translators:
“There are some people now saying, and they might be right, that you'll never be able to get rid of the
bridge between IT and the business because you always need a translator. Maybe digital will always
be that translator because IT guys speak a certain language, and marketing guys speak a certain
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language, and when you put them in the same room they really don't understand each other. They really
don't. You might always need these digital people in the middle to do that translation and to be that
interface. I really don't know how it will turn out, we'll have to see, but there's definitely those 2 paths
ahead.” (CDO, HealthRelated)
Some of the CDOs, however, described neither bridging nor grafting practices in enacting their roles.
(3) Decoupling refers to buffering or isolating digital initiatives from other existing practices. This
mechanism may allow CDOs to establish a “second speed” IT function by keeping the emerging logic
separate from the existing ideas about the IT organization. Often it was due to the nature of traditional
industries where the IT function was especially slow and supportive of the core business:
“Because traditional IT organization in our structure was absolutely not able to take some projects
and deliver in a very fast-pace, with some small budget, on-time and agile and do it and redo it and so
on.” (CDO, Manufacturing 2)
This approach requires less integration in the beginning to enable a strategic view for digital initiatives
quickly. The new digital organization functions like an island of start-up activity in the mist of the existing
IT organization. Organizations where decoupling was the predominant approach showed some evidence
of deeply entrenched oppositional logics. For example, the CDO of FinancialServ 2 described how
decoupling removes the tension between the established and the new function:
On the IT side, I think, you can take two routes. One is you try and transform legacy, so all the legacy,
IT and infrastructure, you try and transform it. I mean, that's really, really hard, and most companies
fail if they try to do that because it takes so long, and it is so enterprise level. Or you can set up a build,
a separate, twin, parallel IT structure, and you just leave the legacy to be, you ignore it. You simply
build something separate anew as if you were a start-up, just build a completely parallel, new
infrastructure. By doing that, you remove a lot of the tension between digital and IT and the need to
transform the technology and the ways of working that exist in IT (CDO, FinancialServ 2).”
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This approach aims at speeding up the innovation lifecycle because the CDO does not have to face
restrictions that are inherently a part of traditional established organizations. The digital function became
an alternative to the IT function for rapid-development projects:
“The first six months, I was to structure the web, add a new portal, destroy some sites, adding something
more organized, branded and so on. Right after, it came quite obvious that a lot of demand came to my
office for different things. Of course, social media, media monitoring, digital marketing, any type of
application that the typical IT could not be able to provide. The business unit find quite rapidly that
they have a lot more services going through my service instead of going to traditional IT (CDO,
Manufacturing 2).”
However, after reaching some key milestones, merging the new and the old becomes a relevant question:
“From a product perspective, we have driven and launched two new mobile apps. We've launched [...]
the most disruptive play against banking [...] went straight to the top of the app stores in [European
country]. We've launched them this week, it was launched on Android this week the money app, which
is another mobile money app we invented [...] There's a lot of different stuff that we have done and now
we're really thinking about how we put a digital transformation into the rest of the organization” (CDO,
FinancialServ 2)
CDOs who chose to decouple their units initially also needed to recruit relevant digital capabilities.
Members of the newly established decoupled digital unit can easily identify with the startup mode of
working and pace of innovation. However, this approach often creates the identity of “lone warriors” which
may prove to be difficult to sustain on a longer term, particularly as digital capabilities need to be infused
into other organizational units.
The CDO is an emerging role that is still in formation (Haffke et al. 2016; Rickards et al. 2015). It does not
represent an institutionalized profession in organizations whereas other executive roles do (Fligstein
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1990). As such, CDOs need to both carve a space for their units, and enact their roles in relation to other
executive roles and their respective jurisdictions. Thus, the emergence of this role offers an opportunity to
understand how this happens, and, in turn, gain insight to institutional entrepreneurship within organizations
(Hardy and Maguire 2008).
Overall, these findings lead us to propose two intrinsically related sides of the emergent CDO role. First is
the development and articulation of its inherent logic of action. CDOs need to gain legitimacy and demark
their jurisdiction in a way that contrasts their activity with related functions. Since the CIO and the
associated IT function is the incumbent role in most organizations for innovating with digital technologies,
CDOs focus much of their identification in terms that contrast their role with the already established CIO
role. This characterization, in turn, provides the reference for action the “logic” of action for the
enactment of this role. Second, CDOs take a variety of approaches in enacting this logic with respect to the
other roles, and we describe three processes through which this happens (i.e., grafting, bridging, and
decoupling). Next, we will briefly discuss each of these contributions, followed by a reflection on digital
technologies and institutional entrepreneurship in organizations.
6.1. The Digital Logic of Action
CDOs justify their “digital” logic by contrasting it to what the “IT” logic represents from their perspective.
This is a jurisdictional move in the sense that by both constructing a specific logic for the IT field and
proposing an alternative, CDOs can carve out a space for their own roles. If the IT function is slow, risk-
averse, and operational, then this function is clearly not suited to the fast-pace, experimental, and customer-
facing imperatives commonly associated with digital innovation (Bharadwaj et al. 2013; Tanriverdi et al.
2010). Of course, this characterization would be totally unfair in organizations with innovative and
ambidextrous IT functions, where CIOs can reconcile highly-reliable operations with experimental
innovation with digital technologies (e.g., vom Brocke 2016). The point of this distinction, however, is not
to generalize across all CIOs and IT functions, but to clarify how the CDOs position themselves in relation
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to CIOs and IT units, supporting the legitimization of their role. In these situations, it is important for the
CDOs to claim the digital mantle, and to relegate the CIO whether fairly or not - to the IT logic that
they construct in opposition to the requirements of the new demands of digital innovation. Table 4
summarizes this distinction as articulated by the CDOs we interviewed.
Table 4. The CDO’s Characterization of “IT” versus Digital” Logics
IT logic
Digital logic
Focus of management control
Operational integration
New initiatives
Value orientation
Cost saving
Revenue enhancing
Goal achievement
Risk aversion
Heavy experimentation
Reference industry
Industrial organization
IT industry, digital disruptors and start ups
Location in value chain
Customer facing
In explicating the digital logic of action that CDOs draw upon, we contribute to research and practice around
digital innovation and IT governance more generally by offering a way to make sense of different
imperatives that drive innovation with digital technologies.
Nowadays, requests for digitalization are coming from different functional units (Economist 2013).
Organizations that emphasize reliable, secure operations will be fundamentally different from those that
focus on experimentation, novelty, and speed. The culture, norms, and prescriptions for appropriate action
will be different. This does not mean that the same executive cannot manage both approaches (there is some
evidence that they can, e.g. vom Brocke 2016), but that these imperatives require different practices.
By articulating these logics, we equip researchers with a way to make sense of diverse imperatives
associated with digital innovation. On the one hand, there is the institutional logic of the IT profession; on
the other hand, there is the emerging digital logic of action. The IT profession represents an institutional
context rooted in the industrial age operations (King 2011). The institutional logic of this field provides
abundant prescriptions for the development, implementation, and maintenance of information systems in
organizations (Avgerou 2000). As an institutionalized field it can be incredibly resistant to change.
Organizations that implement the CDO role are specifically embracing change outside the institutionalized
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field of IT. This is particularly relevant in those organizations where the IT function is considered to be a
cost center and does fulfill a strategic role (Weill and Woerner 2016). An appreciation of the IT institutional
logic as characterized by the CDOs that we interviewed provide one reason for why the unit is relegated to
a cost center service organization without a strategic role. This shows how some organizations (those that
implement a CDO) see their IT function. Since their perceptions are likely not entirely disassociated from
reality, it also highlights how the IT function can become institutionalized in an organization into an
infrastructural role.
Further, articulation of the emerging digital logic of action provides cultural resources (DiMaggio 1997)
that are important to understanding and identifying with digital innovation. The discourse within an
organization the way people in an organization make sense of and frame digital phenomena is
constitutive of the way the organization operates (Berente and Yoo 2012; Phillips et al. 2004). Thus, CDOs
enacting the digital logic of action act as a sort of institutional entrepreneur in the organization carving a
path outside the institutionalized practices of the incumbent IT function. Key implications for practice
involve understanding the role of cultural resources in organizations how logics are present and how they
can shape innovation with digital technologies by considering the distinct logics that drive professional
arrangements and roles. Therefore, it is becoming crucial to recognize different logics that come into play
as digital innovation is ubiquitous and to manage the situation and the divergent logics and associated
practices appropriately. We are not suggesting that a new executive role is inevitable. Instead, we are
proposing that organizations need to enact digital practices, and do so by considering basic cultural
elements, mindsets and rituals that characterize professional backgrounds involved in the process.
For those organizations that do implement a CDO role in order to address conflicting imperatives, it is
important to note that different CDOs can enact their logics much differently. This leads to our second
major contribution: the identification of different practices CDOs take within organizations to enact the
digital logic.
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6.2. Enacting the Digital Logic of Action
CDOs act as institutional entrepreneurs, as such, they shift organizational narratives (Henfridsson and Yoo
2014). In doing so, they carve a space for themselves, but still need to act in the context of existing,
established functional groups. Our second key contribution involves describing three processes through
which CDOs navigate institutionalized contexts with established logics and jurisdictional claims (grafting,
bridging, and decoupling).
Grafting enables institutional entrepreneurs to leverage the legitimacy and institutionalized practices of
existing functional units dealing with digital innovation. Much the way grafting of technologies involves
the way specific, locally-oriented systems extend shared infrastructures (Sanner et al. 2014), this form of
grafting leverages the organizational infrastructure that existing professions provide. Though in a different
context, “installed base” of an infrastructure is often a source of inertia (Star and Ruhleder 1996), and in a
similar way, the institutionalized logic of the IT profession in organization has established patterns of
appropriate behavior.
The grafting approach, which leverages and tightly connects to an existing function, is particularly valuable
when the existing IT domain in the organization is rather homogenous and the power is unified (Battilana
et al. 2009). These CDOs encounter IT units that have established a dominant role in governing most digital
initiatives and are deeply embedded in organizations. By grafting their organization onto the existing,
powerful, IT organization, the CDO can leverage this collaboration to become legitimate. Of course, this
also means that the CDO risks taking a subservient role to the IT function and may be relegated to
jurisdiction over what the IT function chooses not to pursue.
Much of the existing research on professional jurisdictions in organizations emphasizes the contestation
the way different professions jockey for authority in particular domains. For example, in his seminal work,
Abbott (1988) points to the battle between accounting and legal professions for jurisdiction over taxes- a
conflict that the accounting profession won. Recently, however, it has become clear that it is not always a
Page 30 of 37
battle. Emerging occupations can work to connect and collaborate with existing professions, and through
this integrative effort can thus legitimize the emerging occupation (Kahl et al. 2016). This existing research,
however, plays out on the societal level very little of the work on professionalization looks at the way
such dynamics play out within organizations (Bechky 2003). By identifying this grafting process, we not
only contribute to one approach that organizations can take to legitimize the digital innovation function, we
also provide an example of an integrative approach to new occupation formation within organizational
Bridging is another approach CDOs take to integration during the formation of this new occupation an
approach that has different implications for how the C-suite works together. The bridging approach requires
boundary spanning between the practices of the institutional entrepreneur and the existing functions in an
organization. Levina and Vaast (2005) describe such bridging in terms of the emergence of a new joint
field which unites agents in their pursuit of a common organizational interests while, at the same time,
distinguishing them from others who are not engaged in a similar pursuit(p. 337). Consequently, beyond
departmental affiliations, the institutional entrepreneur creates a shared field for boundary spanning. It is
not grafting on one or the other function but a separate collaborative function that gets its legitimacy
specifically from integrating the two. In the case of the CDOs we interviewed, this bridge is often between
IT and Marketing functions. It is specifically through the integration of these two functions that the CDO
claims its jurisdiction.
Existing functions exert both formal and informal influence as they jockey for position (Fligstein 1997),
and may prefer to see a new boundary spanning field rather than relinquish jurisdiction to the other
established field. Compared to grafting, which involves aligning with one powerful functional group and
thus potentially strengthens the jurisdictional claims of that group, bridging does less to change the existing
order. By not aligning with one group or the other, bridging does more to maintain the existing division of
labor, while at the same time clearly demarking a unique jurisdictional claim. Bridging requires varying
degrees of translation between professional groups (Czarniawska-Joerges and Sevón 1996; Czarniawska
Page 31 of 37
and Mazza 2003) with less of a long term oriented objective compared to grafting. However, both bridging
and grafting are integrative approaches.
Decoupling, on the other hand, is in many ways more akin to traditional views of occupational formation
(Abbott 1988). Decoupling isolates the CDO’s organization from outside scrutiny, thus allows it to form
on its own terms. This is a tactic similar to “skunk works” projects in organizations. Skunk works involve
new projects that form outside of the normal organizational structure and thus avoid scrutiny and the
associated political dynamics, as well as the need to comply with technical standards such as architecture
(Goodhue et al. 2009). From an institutional standpoint, decoupling has long been understood as a strategy
to shield activity from outside scrutiny, and thus maintain activity that might not survive that scrutiny
(Pache and Santos 2012). The conflicting requirements of opposing logics are segmented off, allowing
different units to pursue their own, often contradictory, pursuits (Berente and Yoo 2012; Meyer and Rowan
1977). Decoupling approaches enable greater independence and flexibility for CDOs, but do so at the
expense of tight integration with the rest of the organization and challenges to the scaling of innovations.
Therefore, the decoupling approach to CDO enactment may be the most difficult to sustain over time.
Without the additional legitimacy from integrating with other established units, decoupled digital
innovation groups run the risk of being absorbed or eliminated. They have to battle with functional units
that are far stronger and well-established and so their jurisdictional claims can be quite tenuous if a more
powerful function wishes to claim the same space. Of the three approaches, it is perhaps decoupling that is
most conducive to temporary organizational form that will one day vanish. When the organization decides
to maintain a separate unit in this way, it may essentially act as an incubator for digital innovation that
exists by the consent of the established functions of the organization.
Regardless of the approach to enactment of their role, all CDOs seek to gain legitimacy from other
professionals and navigate the resulting tensions that may arise as those meanings systems give rise to the
institutional change process (Battilana et al. 2009; Seo and Creed 2002).
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In this study we reported on how CDOs describe and distinguish their “digital” logics of action and the
different approaches they take to enact this logic in organizations. Thus, we do not elaborate on how, in
absence of this role, the CIO and other areas of an organization would deal with digital initiatives.
Therefore, we acknowledge that there are organizations with IT departments that play a major role in
providing a platform for business as well as acting like an innovation partner (Guillemette and Pare 2012;
Weill and Woerner 2016) for digital innovation, incorporating much of what CDOs describe as the “digital”
logic of action. Future studies could explore the digital logic without the explicit focus on a specific role
and sample for executives driving digital innovation across various professional arrangements.
Nevertheless, this study describes how CDOs, as institutional entrepreneurs, can carve out a space in
organizations with well-established, institutional orders for their innovative trajectories This view
highlights the cultural, discursive element of distinguishing the logic of the field from established logics,
thus allowing for the construction of a distinct jurisdiction. Further, this view details the various dynamic
processes that those institutional entrepreneurs take with respect to existing institutionalized functions. Each
of the processes is distinct and brings its own advantages and disadvantages. Future research could examine
outcomes associated with different approaches and the longer-term dynamics of different processes, as time
passes and the role either matures or fades away.
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We are grateful for the support and time the CDOs who participated in the study, as well as the editorial
and reviewer team for constructive and challenging comments. Also, we are thankful for the opportunity to
present earlier versions of the manuscript during the KIN (The Knowledge, Information and Innovation
Research Group) “Workshop Organizing for Digital Innovation” in Amsterdam 2016.
About the Authors
Sanja Tumbas is assistant professor in information systems at IESE Business School. She received her
Ph.D. from University of Liechtenstein and was a visiting PhD student at the University of Georgia. Her
research focuses on digitalization in young entrepreneurial organizations as well as digital transformation
of large established firms.
Nicholas Berente is associate professor of management information systems at the University of Georgia’s
Terry College of Business and a research fellow with the University of Liechtenstein. He received his Ph.D.
from Case Western Reserve University. His research interests include organizational routines and
institutional change, digital innovation, and cyberinfrastructure.
Jan vom Brocke is full professor for information systems and Hilti Endowed Chair of Business Process
Management at University of Liechtenstein. He is Director of the Institute of Information Systems and Vice
President of the Association for Information Systems (AIS). His research focuses on aspects of
digital innovation and organizational transformation, including business process management and
information systems design.
... Considering the endeavor's scope, severity, and profound challenges associated, a DT must be anchored in the corporate strategy and driven by the top management team (TMT) (Wrede et al., 2020). Yet, due to DT's complexity and necessary adjustments across the entire company, top managers already employed often cannot handle DT in addition to their original duties (Tumbas et al., 2018). In response, many firms create a new C-level position dedicated to DT, the so-called Chief Digital Officer (CDO) (e.g., Haffke et al., 2016;Kunisch et al., 2022). ...
... Menz, 2012). Therefore, CDOs must be equipped with a certain degree of power to surmount resistance and influence critical strategic decisions within the company (Tumbas et al., 2018). Indeed, power is considered essential for achieving strategic change since it serves as "the mechanism by which conflict gets resolved" (Pfeffer, 1981, p. 70) and is key to overcoming inertia (Besson & Rowe, 2012). ...
... Historically, IT-related issues were assumed to fall under the auspices of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) (Haffke et al., 2016). While the CIO role is often expanded from a technologist to a business strategist (Weill & Woerner, 2013), DTs' complexity and dynamics pose challenges to managing DT tasks in addition to the CIO's original responsibilities (Tumbas et al., 2018). Thus, companies are increasingly hiring top-level executives with a dedicated focus on DT, namely CDOs (e.g., Haffke et al., 2016;Kunisch et al., 2022). ...
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Organizations are increasingly installing Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) to cope with the challenges of digital transformation (DT). Due to DT’s cross-functional nature and the far-reaching tasks involved, CDOs must wield sufficient influence to manage DT effectively. Thus far, we lack a profound understanding of how CDOs’ power is composed. To address this research gap, we conducted a multiple-case study drawing on 25 interviews across six case companies. We identify several drivers of CDOs’ power, both in terms of formal and informal power types. Particularly, we demonstrate that CDOs’ power depends not only on organizational contingencies but also on the managers’ personal characteristics. We contribute to literature by adding a power notion to discussions on DT in general and CDOs specifically. Further, we sensitize practitioners to establish the CDO role in a way that is endowed with sufficient power and shed light on how CDOs can increase their power base.
... Digital transformation is increasingly considered an important socio-technical concept in information systems (IS) literature [14][15][16]. Organizations transform their business models based on digital technologies. Digital technologies refer to systems, tools, devices, technologies, and resources that generate, process, or store information [3,17,18]. ...
... First, in the preparation phase, after the period of inception and development, a firm has to seek DT initiatives for its survival for various reasons (arrow a, Figure 1). These reasons are either intentions from inside a firm and planned [16,36] or are mainly due to outside factors, as in this case. An example of an outside factor is technological change, which can take place outside the boundaries of a firm. ...
Full-text available
We are living in the digital era, in which firms often face many challenges due to the rapid development of digital technologies. Thus, firms need to reform their traditional business models by integrating digital technologies into all areas of existing business processes for their survival. This integration process is called digital transformation (DT). However, the understanding of how to develop a sustainable DT process for firms remains incomplete and fragmented. As a result, we studied how DT unfolds over a period of years in the case of telecenters (TCTs) in the context of sustainability. We used a qualitative case study as our research approach. We contribute to the literature by introducing a model of a digital transformation process and its relationship with sustainability. We also contribute to practice by suggesting that in order to ensure sustainability for the long term, managers need to prioritize the sustainable factors in each phase of the DT process while maintaining, continuously seeking, and implementing new digital initiatives.
... Past research suggests that responding to those threats is complex. It has also detailed numerous ways of staying alert in monitoring potential entrants, such as adding Chief Digital Officers to the management team (Tumbas et al., 2018), providing more risktaking incentives to CEOs to increase their engagement in IT innovation (Choi et al., 2021), or facilitating continuous learning (Chanias et al., 2019). Our study adds to this literature by ...
... Each alliance portfolio is subject to more external and internal influences than accounted for in the study. To mitigate these limitations, interviews with top management teams responsible for the alliances could provide further insights (Choi et al., 2021;Li et al., 2021;Tumbas et al., 2018). Future research could analyze alliance portfolio configuration on a more granular level, such as assessing international partnerships on a country level or exploring corporate startup fit. ...
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We examine how firms configure alliance portfolios-that is, networks of partnering firms-to exchange, share, or codevelop the capabilities they require to engage in digital innovation. We analyze data from 550 U.S. firms and the strategic alliances they formed within and across industrial sectors to study how the configuration of alliance portfolios in terms of size, degree of exploration, internationality, and competition affects the volume and quality of digital patents. We find that alliances appear to be an effective means, yet alliances for digital innovations require a different configuration when compared with alliances for non-digital innovations. Large and explorative alliance portfolios help with the creation of digital innovations while international alliances and alliances involving competitors do not. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on digital innovation and alliances. We also distill practical advice to executives charged with making strategic decisions about inter-firm partnerships.
... DT can be defined as "the profound and accelerated transformation of business and organizational activities, processes, competencies, and models to fully leverage the opportunities of the digital era" (Carroll et al., 2023, p. 347). Scholars investigated different aspects of the phenomenon, such as digital technologies as sources of disruption (e.g., Karimi & Walter, 2015), DT strategies (e.g., Hess et al., 2016), digital capabilities (e.g., Warner & Wäger, 2019), organizational roles (e.g., Tumbas et al., 2018), and DT outcomes (e.g., Hanelt et al., 2021b). Recently, discussions about the term DT itself and whether it is a novel phenomenon or merely a new label for established concepts, such as IT-enabled organizational transformation (ITOT) (Wessel et al., 2021), have emerged in the literature (e.g., Carroll et al., 2023;Markus & Rowe, 2023). ...
... Since DT encompasses a wide range of aspects within organizations, researchers have investigated the phenomenon from different angles. For example, some papers focus on digital technologies as the drivers of DT (e.g., Karimi & Walter, 2015); some zoom in on the changes in value creation, such as novel digital products (e.g., Wang et al., 2022) and digital business models (e.g., Ritter et al., 2023); some stress the importance of enablers, such as digital capabilities (e.g., Warner & Wäger, 2019) and new leadership approaches (e.g., Dery et al., 2017); some highlight the accompanying structural changes, such as the creation of new organizational roles (e.g., Tumbas et al., 2018) and digital workplaces (e.g., Zimmer et al., 2023); some study DT strategies (e.g., Chanias et al., 2019); and others deal with outcomes of DT, such as firm performance (e.g., Hanelt et al., 2021b) and emerging ecosystems (e.g., Mann et al., 2022). Besides the thematic plurality, studies on DT differ regarding their level of analysis, ranging from contributions on the organizational level to the societal level (Markus & Rowe, 2023). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Digital transformation (DT) continues to shake up firms and societies at large. Despite a growing number of studies covering a wide array of aspects of DT’s content, evidence of how DT unfolds in firms remains fragmented. Thus far, the literature has provided punctual insights into firms’ DT processes through single and multiple case studies. However, we lack a holistic understanding of the DT process. Adopting a qualitative meta-synthesis, we analyze 64 cases to inductively develop a DT process model depicting six phases (i.e., initiating, preparing, mobilizing, implementing, disseminating, and iterating). The process evolves on two levels—one rather sequential and one non-linear. We contribute to literature by introducing a synthesized process model tailored to DT’s complex nature. Besides, our model provides practitioners with a frame for assessing the progress of their DT journey and outlining a roadmap for their digital endeavor.
... Singh and Hess (2017) believe that the role of the CDO is to coordinate a company's digital transformation, including supporting top management in developing and executing a dedicated digital transformation strategy, seizing new digital technology opportunities to bring the company to the forefront of digital development, and promoting cross-functional collaboration and mobilizing the entire cross-level company internally [12]. Tumbas et al. (2018) further studied 35 organizations and found that the CDO, as an institutional entrepreneur, distinguishes himself from existing executive roles through "digital" terminology and plays a key role in clarifying and developing emerging "digital" action logic and developing digital logic to address the tension between existing and emerging technologies through strategies such as grafting, bridging, and decoupling [13]. Singh et al. (2019) believe that the CDO's role in promoting digital transformation includes vertical and horizontal organizational design. ...
... Singh and Hess (2017) believe that the role of the CDO is to coordinate a company's digital transformation, including supporting top management in developing and executing a dedicated digital transformation strategy, seizing new digital technology opportunities to bring the company to the forefront of digital development, and promoting cross-functional collaboration and mobilizing the entire cross-level company internally [12]. Tumbas et al. (2018) further studied 35 organizations and found that the CDO, as an institutional entrepreneur, distinguishes himself from existing executive roles through "digital" terminology and plays a key role in clarifying and developing emerging "digital" action logic and developing digital logic to address the tension between existing and emerging technologies through strategies such as grafting, bridging, and decoupling [13]. Singh et al. (2019) believe that the CDO's role in promoting digital transformation includes vertical and horizontal organizational design. ...
Full-text available
Digital transformation has become a strategic imperative for enterprises, playing an increasingly pivotal role in driving business model innovation, transforming the way organizations create value, and shaping the innovation and entrepreneurship process and outcomes. However, previous research has predominantly focused on identifying favorable factors that drive the formation of digital transformation and emphasizing their positive effects, while overlooking the unfavorable factors that constrain digital transformation. Consequently, the mechanism for realizing digital transformation remains unclear. This study reviews the relevant literature on digital transformation, elucidates its connotation and significance, and explores the driving and constraining factors of enterprise digital transformation. Finally, the paper proposes future research directions for enterprise digital transformation.
... Recent research has focused on distinguishing the concept of DT from previous concepts, such as information technology (IT)-enabled organizational transformation (Wessel et al. 2021), as well as more general concepts, such as different waves of technology use within organizations (Teubner and Stockhinger 2020). Tumbas et al. (2018) investigated the differences between the terms "digital" and "IT" on the basis of the associated management functions of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and a Chief Information Officer (CIO), pointing out that the responsibilities of a CIO are more on an operational level, whereat those of the CDO are of strategic importance. Importantly, the progression and contributions of these discussions significantly depend on a common understanding and conceptualization of DT. ...
Full-text available
In the past years we have observed enormous adoption and use of digital technologies in almost all domains of human life. In this context, researchers and practitioners have been using the term “digital transformation” (DT) to characterize phenomena related to the changes caused by increased use of digital technologies. The progression and contributions of corresponding discussions significantly depend on a common understanding and conceptualization of DT. Accordingly, the information systems research community has started working toward conceptual clarity. Importantly, the current debate focuses on theoretical contributions by academic researchers. Hence, data on the practitioners’ perspective on DT is missing. Against this background, we investigated general understandings of DT in practice. Our analysis comprises data of N = 529 business decision-makers in the UK. Our results show a significant discrepancy between science (i.e., conceptualizations and definitions of DT in the academic literature) and practice (i.e., business decision-makers’ perceptions and corresponding survey responses). Specifically, for a large proportion of the respondents their decision to classify concrete digitalization examples from the literature as DT or no DT was largely independent of the degree of organizational change caused by the use of digital technologies. This is a surprising result, as high-caliber academic literature proposes this degree to be a critical factor to characterize DT. Another key finding is that a remarkable number of practitioners consider a digitalization initiative as DT based on the mere occurrence of specific buzzwords related to digital technologies in the corresponding descriptions. In particular, the buzzword “digital technology” led the survey participants to classify a definition as instance for DT. We discuss implications of our results and limitations.
... Organizations address this shortcoming in different ways. By appointing chief digital officers and digital non-executives, the capabilities within the board of management will increase (Tumbas et al., 2018;Berman et al., 2020). Organizations appointing a chief digital officer need to make sure responsibilities between the chief digital officer and the chief information officer are aligned . ...
... This discourse understands DT's core premise as delivering improvements through digital innovations and/or the development, implementation, and use of digital infrastructures (Carroll et al., 2023;Vial, 2019). In the literature, we observe that much of the DT discourse to date, particularly at the organizational level, has focused on economic improvements (Barthel, 2021;Hanelt et al., 2021;Tumbas et al., 2018). However, we also see nascent studies that suggest organizational DT as a means to deliver social or environmental improvements (e.g. ...
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Past research provides instructive yet incomplete answers as to how incumbent firms can address competing concerns as they embrace digital innovation. In particular, it offers only partial explanations of why different concerns emerge, how they manifest, and how firms can manage them. In response, we present a longitudinal case study of Volvo Cars’connected car initiative. Combining extant literature with insights from the case, we argue that incumbent firms face four competing concerns—capability (existing versus requisite), focus (product versus process), collaboration (internal versus external), and governance (control versus flexibility)—and that these concerns are systemically interrelated. Firms must therefore manage these concerns cohesively by continuously balancing new opportunities and established practices.
Full-text available
Estimates suggest that about 80% of today's enterprise data is unstructured. 2 Unlike structured data, which is tidy and mostly numeric, unstructured data is often textual and, therefore, messy. Unstructured data comprises documents, emails, instant messages or user posts and comments on social media, and presents a challenge to data miners; analyzing unstructured data is more complex, more ambivalent and more time consuming. Extracting knowledge from unstructured text, also known as text mining or text analytics, has been, and still is, limited by the ability of computers to understand the meaning of human language. 3 The written word, however, can provide valuable insights about the inner workings and environment of an organization; it has the potential to improve an organization's productivity while generating value for customers. Some organizations are successfully leveraging textual data as part of their analytics efforts. For example, pharmaceutical companies mine patents and scientific literature to improve product development processes. Doctors use text analytics to aid medical diagnosis by mining electronic health records. Insurance companies analyze claims and damage reports to mitigate risk or detect fraud.
Conference Paper
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The CIO role often embodies both strategic as well as operational elements. However, the penetration of digital technologies into nearly every aspect of business has led many firms to create the role of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to oversee the establishment of digital capabilities in the company. This development has the potential for considerable redundancy between CIO and CDO roles and brings the CIO role to an inflection point. Through multiple interviews with executives of 19 firms, seven of which have a CDO, this paper explores the reasoning behind the CDO role, the need for which is often driven by digitization pressure, demand for organizational orchestration, aspects of the CIO role profile, and the digitization focus areas of the company. Moreover, this paper identifies four distinct CDO role-types (Evangelist, Coordinator, Innovator, and Advocate) and assesses the implications for the CIO role in the context of digital transformation.
This paper examines how occupational groups survive the introduction of a new technology and associated jurisdictional changes. We draw on a comparative historical analysis of two occupational associations'-systems men and production planners-efforts to frame their evolving tasks and relate to other occupations after the introduction of the computer into U.S. business in the early 1950s. We observe that systems men followed the path traditionally advocated in the occupations and professions literature by seeking autonomy through differentiating their task domains from other groups and by trying to get other groups to recognize their control. But they were unsuccessful and disbanded by the mid-1990s. In contrast, the successful production planners took an integrative approach through efforts to frame the interdependencies of their tasks and relate to other occupations, making them more necessary to the functioning of other groups and the organization. Our study contributes to the growing relational perspective on occupations by showing how taking an integrative approach with other occupations at the field level can help occupations survive long term.