Digital Innovation - Viewing the Future - Bob Howland
The Role of a CDO
There are so many different kinds of Chief Digital Officers. Bob is a part of a couple of advisory groups and councils of CDOs and has learned how different each CDO’s job is.
“I’ve built e-commerce businesses for 25 companies in my career. In doing that, I’ve also transformed 25 companies. I believe that the technology piece of e-commerce is pretty easy. Anybody can whip up a website in six months and get it out there. The real challenge is to build the website in a way that the people who need it use it.”
Bob has found that most CDOs are CIOs that want a different title. “CIOs that are well versed in enterprise architecture, and keeping the lights on, from a legacy-system-point-of-view are most likely not the right fit for an organization that is looking for a CDO. Those companies are seeking new ways of working with new technologies to transform the business. That’s the biggest disconnect I see with CEOs and boards trying to hire Chief Digital Officers.”
Viewing the Future
Self-service was the rage before COVID-19 hit, but now that experience has been removed and may never return. Celebrations such as graduations and weddings with massive cakes and dessert spreads are also going by the wayside. But one trend that was starting pre-COVID that was yet to take hold was the idea of individual servings. It hadn’t taken hold because it’s more complicated to plan and can be a little bit more expensive.
“But the throughput tends to be much more unique,” says Bob, “I get the ceremonial aspect of the wedding cake, but from a food preparation and consumer enjoyment standpoint, I think the individual taste is something that will be a post-COVID trend. I think the world of B2B can sometimes be archaic in terms of how business is conducted. In the case of a bakery distribution company like ours, the way that we sell our product is that our salespeople go out, visit customers, and take orders manually, with drive times being a waste of somebody’s day. The ability for a customer to order whatever they want online as opposed to ordering only when the salesperson arrives is game-changing. Customers have been asking for this for quite some time.”
The Digital Innovation Hub
The executive team and board of Dawn Foods understood what they knew and, more importantly, what they didn’t know. They recognized that they were a hundred-year-old company in rural Michigan with a legacy way of working.
“I had been EVP and GM for the leading furniture e-commerce platform in North America, based in Boston, where consumers purchased furniture unseen because of our huge omnichannel component. As we were thinking about the Dawn Digital Innovation Hub, the Board and Executive team had already concluded that this hub needed to be outside of our headquarters to fully enable new ways of working. The idea of Boston appealed for a number of reasons. Not only did I have a deep network there, but it’s also one of the bigger entrepreneurial hubs and has a great heritage of B2B and e-commerce. Boston also has a rich history with MIT and Harvard and the talent coming out of those schools.”
Bob is now using that network to create a new way of hiring and has built up a 14-person Digital Innovation Hub. He has a team that’s incredibly diverse with experience in a lot of different shops and a lot of different tech stacks. They are fortunate to be well funded by a very successful company.
“We get to decide how we work, which tools to work on, and how we build this platform. The experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
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