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Technology Becomes Strategic: The Impact on C-Suite Executive Functions

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In the last 30 years, developments in technology have progressed at an astonishing rate. This phenomenon can be explained in relation to Moore’s Law, where technological developments double in very short lifecycles (originally applied to computer chips). As Dan Schulman, President of Pre-Paid Group, Sprint, recently discussed at the Association of Executive Search Consultant’s 2010 Annual Conference, the increased speed of technological advancement is the most important business factor to consider when staying ahead of competition in the marketplace. So how will this affect C-Suite positions in future?

Historically, the role of technology has taken a back seat to a business’s strategic development. Technology-focused roles such as the CIO or CTO were confined to functional and technical infrastructure planning and implementation, but now the gap between technology and corporate strategy is closing. As an example, companies have used social media technology to drive their marketing strategy, product development, customer relations and employee engagement. Their ability to utilise these technologies has also become easier – for example, with Ning Social Networks (http://www.ning.com), anyone can now create their own social network in 5 minutes. As more organisations begin to use the various technological developments, technology will become more closely aligned with advancing the company’s strategic goals, and operations will be further guided by the CIO or CTO.

In today’s business environment, CIO’s and CTO’s must be able to go beyond general technical planning and implementation, and further into steering the organization through business process streamlining and restructuring, negotiating smart outsourcing agreements, and using creative and innovative technological solutions to solve operational problems and achieve strategic goals. The process of uniting multiple departments to achieve strategic goals driven by technology will require an increasingly broad set of soft skills, with particular focus on people management, communication and leadership.
 

If the CIO changes, so must the rest

The CEO must be tech-savvy and proactive in continued learning, and will need to be able to understand and add to every project driven by the CIO or CTO. In addition, the CIO or CTO should report to the CEO in order to maintain a strong line of direct communication and close contact with larger corporate strategy. One problem experienced by many senior executive technology professionals is a bottle-neck at the top, and lack of understanding or support at the top will cripple any project or strategy being driven forward by the CIO or CTO. After all, it will be the CEO’s task to outline the positive impact of technology to the Board of Directors and Shareholders.

This requirement for a strong technological knowledge base extends to the entire c-suite, so robust training programs must be put in place across the entire organization. For the CMO, increasingly marketing practices are moving away from direct mail and print onto digital platforms, so a grasp of information and technological management should already be a key skill set ready to be exploited. It goes without saying that the COO and CFO, who control the operational and financial processes, will need to closely align their management process with the CIO or CTO. Again, a strong commitment to leveraging technology and information management projects to achieve strategic goals must be in place.
 

The Future?

One development could see these C-suite positions merge as the roles of operational and technological management become inseparable. This is unlikely to occur at larger corporations due to workload factors and executive specialities - one person cannot do everything. However, we are likely to see more senior executives transitioning across the C-Suite, from CIO to COO and visa-versa. Small to mid-size organizations who have learnt invaluable optimization lessons from the recession may find they can operate successfully with an executive who has functioned in both roles, or who simply has a well-developed broad skill set.

As C-Suite executive positions become more closely aligned, the organization should naturally become flatter. This should also apply to those not yet at the executive level, with many Gen Y enthusiasts often having direct engagement with the latest developments in communication and information technology. Hierarchal changes can sometimes be resisted by those in executive functions, so these developments could be a cause of friction at the top. Take a look below and ask yourself two key questions to ensure that you are prepared for this acceleration in technological development and the organizational and strategic changes that will come as a result.

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This article was written by Christian Pielow from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.

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