THE BLOG
03/16/2014 01:19 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2014

The Guardian's Chief Digital Officer on Going 'Digital-First'

The task of converting old school business into the digital world will be championed by chief digital officers. By 2015, 25 percent of the large global organizations will have appointed chief digital officers (CDO), a prediction by Gartner. The research also points to the fact that over 25 percent of CDOs are women, almost twice as high as for CIOs (13 percent).

I recently had the privilege of interviewing a brilliant CDO, Harvard University's Perry Hewitt, where she outlined 10 critical success factors for driving digital business transformation. To further understand the role and responsibilities of a chief digital officer, we invited another extraordinary CDO to our weekly show. Tanya Cordrey is the chief digital officer (CDO) at Guardian News and Media, heading up the organization's 150-strong product, engineering and data and analytics teams. Under her leadership, the Guardian has developed an unparalleled run of award-winning, innovative digital products and grown its global audience to 90 million unique browsers per month. In August 2013, she led the Guardian's successful global domain change, unifying all its digital assets at http://www.theguardian.com -- one of the world's largest ever domain changes.

With journalism and news media undergoing tremendous change driven by digital, Cordrey gives her unique perspective as CDO on managing digital transformation and offers the Guardian's best practices for going "digital-first" -- a term that they actually coined themselves.

5 Ways to Make Your Organization Digital-First:

1. Make digital strategy everyone's job -- There is still a lot of mystery around the role of the chief digital officer (CDO). Cordrey describes her role as having two aspects: First, as a functional department line manager, she is responsible for making sure that the product, engineering and data and analytics teams are running smoothly. The second is to push hard to make sure that her departments and peers are being as digitally-savvy as they can possibly be and are moving as rapidly and nimbly as they can on the digital agenda. She says it's a mix of the strategic and the operational. Cordrey feels that it is a big mistake when an organization makes the CDO the sole person that is responsible for digital transformation and says, "Digital strategy belongs to all the different departments. The role of CDO is to make sure everyone feels empowered to do amazing digital things."

Like Tricia Blair, Chief Digital Officer at Lincoln Financial Group, Cordrey sees the roles of CIO and CMO as natural allies. To be a successful CDO you need to be as comfortable with the technology as you are with marketing, since the role of CDO is to ensure you are setting up these other departments for success while making sure to push the digital agenda hard.

2. Promote a culture that embraces digital innovation -- Cordrey says that similar to how Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, likes to think of Twitter as a technology company that is in the media business, the Guardian likes to think of themselves as a media company that can think and acts like a technology company. To help make that vision become a reality they rely heavily on data and they built a data science team to unlock the value of their data to better understand how their customers are consuming their products. By embracing real-time data, they were able to build their own tool for the newsroom which allows journalists to see their traffic in real time. At any given moment they can see how people are using their stories, which is changing the way they work in a subtle, organic way and allowing them to be savvier in ensuring more people are reading their content.

3. Develop a "digital-first" mindset -- The Guardian coined the phrase 'digital-first' a few years ago, when CEO, Andrew Miller, and editor in chief, Alan Rusbridger, first started using the phrase. "As an organization in transformation no one doubts the shift to digital, but we were saying we wanted everyone in the organization to make sure they were putting a digital hat on," says Cordrey. This digital-first initiative makes everyone really examine all that they are doing and forces them to make tough decisions early on to help push the digital agenda forward. Organizations need to be conscious that the world is changing rapidly and putting "digital-first" shows their eagerness and courage to embrace these changes, but Cordrey feels that digital-first is not enough and says that looking forward you could argue for mobile-first, video-first or even wearable tech-first.

The Guardian has future plans to look at mobile and force themselves to think of everything they do through the lens of mobile. They are also looking at increasing customer retention and loyalty by using video as a wonderful new way of telling stories.

4. Embrace the ethos of continual development - The Guardian has adopted a very iterative, agile approach for their product development. This amazing shift in how they do product development was helped by a recently built best-in-breed user experience lab which allows them to bring users in for a first-hand look at how they use the products in real time. Cordrey recalls that when she first started at the Guardian they used to do just two releases per month and any web changes would mean taking their editorial tools down for 20 minutes or longer -- something that a 24x7 news organization can't afford. Today, developers can release code multiple times every day and never affect the journalist tools.

5. Cultivate an open culture -- The Guardian embraces an open culture that starts at the top with the daily morning conferences of the editorial in chief and top managers being made open to all employees. The meetings are attended by everyone from product developers to engineers, fostering a strong bond among everyone in the organization. Having the editorial and technical staff working side-by-side in the same building allows the people that are building the editorial tools to spend time with the journalists to ensure they deliver tools that will give them a great user experience. The close proximity to the journalists also enables the tech team to get immediate feedback so they can iterate more quickly and improve with each iteration.

You can watch the full interview with Tanya Cordrey here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk -- connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.