June 17, 2024

Advancing Digital Growth

Pioneering Technological Innovation

Artificial Intelligence and the Growing Importance of Chief Digital Officers

8 min read

It would be an understatement to say that significant technological innovation is shaping the new digital era. It is a period in our history that is being driven by information sharing, and analysis by intelligent systems supported by artificial intelligence algorithms and emerging technologies. Such digital transformation can bring efficiency and economic prosperity, but it also poses significant security risks.

To adjust to the many changes being implemented in the evolving digital ecosystem, a few years ago, the role of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) was created. It was a new addition to the C-suite and government organizations. Now, with the rapid pace of generative AI, the CDO role has taken on new duties and has expanded to leveraging data with emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence, to obtain a more insightful understanding of the processes, capabilities, and threats comprising the digital ecosystem.

In this new technological era, prerequisites for the CDO position include comprehending the mission and being able to properly nurture and evaluate data and internal resources. The current strategy integrates artificial intelligence and automation capabilities with unattached and unstructured data sources to build analytics tiers. The CDO gives data and programmatic initiatives significance in the digital age by bringing efficiency, transparency, scalability, and governance to the executive process.

This growing commercial trend has also permeated the government. Each government agency has a unique set of objectives and data requirements that suit the need for the CDO’s involvement. The Chief Digital Officer’s role is to act as a compass to ensure the digital transformation is progressing correctly. A variety of agencies in the US federal government have announced chief digital officer positions, some of which are merged with artificial intelligence director titles.

The CDO in the public sector must ensure that the organization has a valuable, enterprise-wide data inventory and prioritize data exchange across the divided bureaus and offices. To make sure that there are uniform standards, a CDO should collaborate with the chief information security officer (CISO), the chief information officer (CIO), the chief technology officer (CTO), and the privacy officer.

The requirements of Zero Trust mandates in digital transformation had a significant impact on the expansion of the CDO role. The US standards organization NIST describes Zero trust (ZT) as “the term for an evolving set of cybersecurity paradigms that move defenses from static, network-based perimeters to focus on users, assets, and resources. A Zero trust assumes there is no implicit trust granted to assets or user accounts based solely on their physical or network location or based on asset ownership.”

With the evolving mandates of Zero Trust and Security by Design, The establishment of the CDO job is proof of the growing importance that both cybersecurity and data management are receiving in both the public and private sectors to protect data and to make strategic and astute decisions.

I reached out to a former colleague at the Department of Homeland Security, Debra Durham, who has now assumed the Chief Digital Officer role at Serco, a company that provides national security expertise, high-end engineering, and specialized security offerings to the federal government, particularly at DOD and DHS. Debra has unique perspectives from working both in the public and private sectors in science & technology and in security.

Debra explained that her new role as Chief Digital Officer is to align Serco’s digital transformation initiatives with existing customer environments to optimize front-line service delivery. She says guiding cultural challenges to shift from existing processes to data-driven processes is a natural path to digital transformation. She said that to close gaps and be successful, the CDO must explore multiple realms of technological capabilities to bridge current needs and future innovations while providing iterative demonstrations in collaboration with the client.

She said for most CDOs, the focus areas of such technological capabilities should be in cyber security, digital engineering, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and leveraging the way that these systems learn. Not too far down the pipeline will also be quantum technologies. The CDO must provide expertise throughout the organization, especially to the CTO, CIO, and CISO, to address exponential changes that require new strategies and frameworks.

Moreover, whether it is in national security, whether that is in defense or homeland security, agencies do understand that there is a new wave of innovation that is impacting mission requirements, as a result, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems need to be cultivated, and implemented. Therefore, the CDO’s working strategy needs to be conducted within an adaptive framework that could apply to everything from zero trust, security by design, or even defense in depth, because they all have the same requirements to understand the mission, the technologies, and the policies.

Vicki Chrea, Customer Success Manager at ServiceNow, echoes Debra’s perspectives on adapting to the new digital ecosystem and the need for inter-company cooperation, “In our experience working with Serco, collaborating on the roadmap for digital transformation is a prudent path for companies and government to optimize and secure the potential of emerging technologies. The work we do through ServiceNow Impact with Serco’s technology office is a perfect conduit to help facilitate such cooperation.”

I also reached out to Marie Hickey, SVP of Anacomp, a leading provider of technology-based solutions for data discovery and governance, digital transformation, and records and information management. She sees the role of the CDO as now being indispensable for the government’s digital era. She envisions the need for the CDO to develop a strategy for leveraging AI for proactive purposes, specifically automating the indexing and classification of data inventory for Zero Trust implementation.

Marie also notes that the CDO can help boost the capacity to apply reliability factors to the creation, application, testing, and assessment of artificial intelligence systems, services, and products that are transforming government and industry.

Another good g example of the CAIO of today is Parminder Bhatia. As GE HealthCare’s chief AI officer, Bhatia is responsible for the strategy and implementation of AI. Among other things, this involves using AI to improve diagnosis, automate measurement, speed up radiology procedures, and diminish scan durations.

“Our goal is to use voice, text, and the most recent AI visualizations to completely transform healthcare interfaces,” Bhatia states. It goes beyond technological innovation in this approach. In order to improve medical professionals’ efficiency, enhance patient outcomes, and reinvent how they engage with and use technology, user-centric technologies must be developed.

According to a survey conducted for CIO magazine last fall, 11% of moderate to large businesses had employed a CAIO, and another 21% were looking to hire one.

Chief AI officer: What it takes to land the C-suite’s hottest new job | CIO

A good governmental model of how to get insights into the importance of CDOs, and how they will evolve in their roles with emerging technologies such as AI can be garnered from the DOD’s description of the CHIEF DIGITAL AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE OFFICE (CDAO).

CDAO Mission

The CDAO will accelerate DoD adoption of data, analytics, and artificial intelligence from the boardroom to the battlefield to enable decision advantage.

CDAO Vision

The CDAO envisions a modern and agile Department of Defense that fully delivers on the National Defense Strategy through a robust digital hierarchy of needs that enables Department leaders and warfighters to make proactive, timely, and impactful decisions in the boardroom and on the battlefield.

The CDAO has five primary functions:

  1. Lead and oversee DoD’ s strategy development and policy formulation for data, analytics, and AI.
  2. Work to break down barriers to data and AI adoption within appropriate DoD institutional processes.
  3. Create enabling digital infrastructure and services that support Components’ development and deployment of data, analytics, AI, and digital-enabled solutions.
  4. Selectively scale proven digital and Al-enabled solutions for enterprise and joint use cases.
  5. Surge digital services for rapid response to crises and emergent challenges.

CDAO – Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (ai.mil)

The office was launched in 2022, and its first head was Craig Martell. He recently said in a statement before a media roundtable that “In order to deliver analytical and AI capabilities, we have to get our data right. So, the major wins that we have delivered to the Department of Defense involve thinking about data as a product in a database. And I think it’s important not to automatically jump to the top of the hierarchy to see value. If we only deliver AI, then what we’ll be delivering is a stovepipe solution. Seriously if we only deliver AI — and the data is not ready, and the talent isn’t ready yet, and the governance isn’t ready, and the staffing isn’t ready — then what does that mean? We will continue to deliver stovepipe solutions.” Craig Martell, the Pentagon’s first-ever Chief Digital and AI Officer, to depart in April | DefenseScoop

Dr. Radha Plumb will be the next Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer. Currently serving as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. But DOD is not the only part of government addressing digital and AI issues.

Recently, the White House has mandated that chief artificial intelligence officers be appointed by all federal agencies to supervise the government’s diverse AI initiatives and mitigate any potential risks associated with the rapidly advancing technologies. To coordinate and develop guidelines for the use of AI technologies throughout each agency, the new OMB directive also mandates that federal agencies set up AI governance boards.

Although the CDO and CDAO are in the early stages of creation both in government and the C-Suite, there is little doubt the role will continue to take on more responsibilities and importance. Emerging technologies, and especially AI, are rapidly changing our society, and those new roles and titles will become indispensable to be able to meet the challenges of the future.

About the author:

Chuck serves as President and Consultant of Brooks Consulting International, with over 25 years of experience in cybersecurity, emerging technologies, marketing, business development, and government relations.

Chuck also serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in the Cyber Risk Management Program, where he teaches graduate courses on risk management, homeland security, and cybersecurity.

Chuck Brooks has received numerous global accolades for his work and promotion of cybersecurity. Recently, he was named the top cybersecurity expert to follow on social media, and one of the top cybersecurity leaders for 2024. He has also been named “Cybersecurity Person of the Year” by Cyber Express, Cybersecurity Marketer of the Year, and a “Top 5 Tech Person to Follow” by LinkedIn” where he has 116,000 followers on his profile. He has 57,000 subscribers to his newsletter, “Security and Tech Insights.”

As a thought leader, blogger, and event speaker, he has briefed the G20 on energy cybersecurity, the US Embassy to the Holy See, and the Vatican on global cybersecurity cooperation. He has served on two National Academy of Science advisory groups, including one on digitalizing the USAF, and another on securing BioTech. He has also addressed USTRANSCOM on cybersecurity and serves on an industry/government working group for DHS CISA focused on security space systems.

In his career, Chuck has received presidential appointments for executive service by two U.S. presidents and served as the first Director of Legislative Affairs at the DHS Science & Technology Directorate. He has also served in executive roles for companies such as General Dynamics, Rapiscan, and Xerox.

Chuck has an MA from the University of Chicago, a BA from DePauw University, and a certificate in International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law.


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