We live in an era of true technology paradox: Business leaders can’t delegate I.T. oversight—but few executives want to become I.T. experts.
The C-level leader’s path to success has changed. Different times, and different circumstances, require different leadership skills. Today executives must focus on technology in a way previous generations of leaders never did. Instead of relegating all things technology to an I.T. manager, executives are now responsible for rewiring business legacies for digital success. This has caused many businesses to add CIO or CTO roles to their executive teams; however, not all small-and-medium businesses have the budget to add these roles. Even still, organizations must embrace the fact that technology is no longer a small part of the larger organizational framework – it is an essential ingredient to business success.
While leaders today may utilize technology as a modern “necessary evil,” many continue to struggle to understand the digital worldview needed for long-term sustainability. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I.T. leadership was logical, detail-oriented, and sequential. In 2020, the web of opportunities continues to widen. It isn’t enough to follow strategic paths to success. Streamlined business strategies matter, but leaders need a deeper understanding.
The modern executive and technology
Technology departments aren’t parochial and rigid anymore. At today’s most successful growth-oriented organizations, in fact, C-level leaders make and understand I.T. decisions. They need to respond quickly to new challenges, often adopting real-time solutions to ever-expanding opportunities – which was exacerbated with the 2020 pandemic. Technology is an integral part of business operations – from security, to collaboration tools, and now remote work capabilities, every part of your business involves technology in some way.
According to McKinsey Digital, many businesses have seen an improvement in financial performance after focusing on technology within the overall business strategy. When CEOs and other CXOs make it a priority to have effective, efficient I.T., it pays dividends for their overall growth. Sixty-eight percent of CEOs interviewed in a 2019 KMPG International study said that they were focusing on placing capital investment in new technology.
As we have seen with the 2020 pandemic, tomorrow’s leaders must operate in an environment of heightened uncertainty—and quickly. The leadership competencies required to lead successfully throughout the next decade prioritize lateral thinking, agility, cultural understanding, and even emotional intelligence. Innovative growth isn’t a tech-only game. It’s a comprehensive ideology that combines digital expertise and classic business tactics.
Technology paradox: I.T. oversight without I.T. expertise
And there’s the technology paradox again: I.T. oversight is a C-level responsibility, but business leaders shouldn’t have to become I.T. experts to run a non-I.T. company. An oversight program can be challenging to implement. That’s because technology changes rapidly. The subject matter is complex. And experts routinely use jargon.
Five years ago these factors resulted in an I.T. “confidence gap,” despite the fact that many executive boards spend a considerable amount of time discussing I.T. For example, the 2015 PwC Annual Corporate Directors Survey found that only one-fourth of directors strongly believe their company’s I.T. strategy is supported by an adequate understanding of I.T.
Now, five years later, CEOs have engaged their I.T. leadership at a higher rate to help with business strategy. According to the Deloitte–WSJ Intelligence report, 50% of CEOs see their I.T. leaders (in this case the CIO) as the key driver of business strategy in the next 3-5 years. However, that still leaves 50% of the CEOs – only from this study – that are engaging I.T. leadership at this level. Whether your organization has someone on staff in this role, or you work with a third-party to cover this expertise for your organization, it’s important to bring them into the overall business strategy conversations. Your financial performance will see positive impacts.
Businesses are becoming more reliant on technology to gain a competitive advantage, but technology can also disrupt operations. This is why having a strong I.T. team that can act as a liaison to C-levels is vitally important. Large companies typically build this team in-house; however, to share costs and resources, SMB gain access to a large array of technology experts by working with a Managed I.T. services provider. These organizations understand how important it is that the management team comprehend and leverage I.T. to help grow their business.
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Technology cannot be ignored in the modern business landscape. It is up to today’s executives to have a strategy to keep up.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.