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Changing of the guard: Will technology leaders soon set business strategy?

IT must increasingly align with the business to keep up with modern customer demands, leading to a change of how the technology leadership role is performed

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According to a survey of more than 3,000 CIOs and technology leaders, enterprises are entering the “third era of IT”.

Having transitioned from a period in which IT was seen as a separate silo of the business to one in which IT is now strategically aligned to the business, technology is now seen as a business imperative. It’s no longer a “nice to have” or an after-thought, it’s what keeps businesses competitive and aligned with market demands.

In the UK, the number of companies entering administration has hit a five-year high. The struggle in retail is particularly acute, with household names such as Jack Wills, Debenhams and LK Bennett all entering administration this year.

These challenges are concerning and demonstrate the importance of companies moving quickly, embracing a digital proposition and listening to their customers. It’s clear that no business is immune to the digital revolution. All businesses – no matter what sector – should be reevaluating how to meet the demands of the modern customer.

However, the decision to embed digital transformation in the entire business strategy needs to have the full support of the C-suite and be pioneered by the experts.

Often those leading the business through this change aren’t the CEO or chief financial officer (CFO), who have traditionally risen from financial or sales backgrounds. Instead, these projects are spearheaded by technology leaders, those who have a deep understanding of technology and are best equipped to map this transformation to the business strategy.

In fact, CTOs and their teams are ideally placed to oversee digital implementation and selling the benefits of the shift to internal and external stakeholders. 

Future of business leadership

Across multiple industries – be it retail, healthcare, automotive, energy or financial services – every business leader is talking about the importance of digital transformation. It’s become synonymous with a progressive, agile business that can evolve to changing market demands.

Yet, they aren’t deploying the right team members to lead these efforts. According to a Deloitte study, just 34% of CIOs are playing a strategic role in their organisation.

Moreover, a recent report by Dell Technologies shows that 61% of businesses are being held back by an insufficient digital vision and strategy, losing ground to competitors as a result.

So, it’s never been more pressing for technology leaders to take their mantle as one of the key drivers and the technology consultant for future business strategy.

Forward-thinking companies will recognise that technology leaders – be it the CIO, CTO or equivalent – have the expertise and insight into the wider business to deliver an appropriate strategy.

However, this is not to say that the CEO or other C-suite executives won’t have a role to play too. Cross-business collaboration will ensure that transformation programmes align with all business units and, most importantly, deliver for their customers.

For instance, IT services provider Fujitsu has found that by aligning its IT team with its client services function, it has been able to evolve faster with customer needs and embrace new technologies as they emerge.

Building the talent pipeline 

Importantly, for technology leaders to implement a programme of change, they need the talent at their disposal to be capable of executing on specific projects.

Unfortunately, the skills gap is continuing to grow. In the past year it’s risen by 12%, and the demand for skilled professionals is becoming ever more competitive.

But technology leaders don’t need to panic. By focusing on developing the skills of existing employees, they can adopt a more sustainable and scalable approach to meeting digital transformation objectives.

First, they need to look towards adopting a culture of learning in their teams. A report from Deloitte has shown that organisations with a strong learning culture are 56% more likely to be first to market with a product or solution. Moreover, they will also outperform the profitability of their peers by 17%. 

In addition to this approach being a smart business strategy, fostering a culture of learning is the only way to keep pace with the speed of technological innovation and digital transformation.

Decades ago, there were two software languages. Today, there are more than 250 languages and they’re constantly being updated, sometimes more than eight times per year. Java had five updates in the past year, and PHP had 20. Implementing a clear learning strategy is a business imperative. The good news is that it does not need to be done alone. 

Finding a strategic partner  

For technology leaders, it’s best practice to find a strategic partner to help develop the technology skills of their team and implement the business’s digital vision.

For example, digital on-demand technology learning platforms can provide the skill development tools to keep employees engaged and learning. These platforms combine skill assessments, course libraries, personalised learning paths and analytics to ensure that the workforce can upskill in the technologies that will drive the business forward.

They are easily scalable too, with courses taught by world-renowned subject matter experts which employees have accessible to them any time, anywhere and on any device.

While there are obvious direct benefits to employees honing their existing and upskilling in new skills, on-demand technology learning can support company goals as well.

Through personalised measurement tools, employers can understand their organisation’s skills gap and benchmark their workforce against industry standards, addressing learning needs in an efficient and targeted manner.

As a result, a digital technology skills platform can help companies stay ahead of the latest technology developments and upskill their workforce to keep pace with innovation. This in turn better positions a business for profitability and gives them a competitive advantage.

Final words

In today’s business environment, a technology strategy must support the overall strategy of the business. The CEO, chief marketing officer (CMO) or CFO of an organisation is unlikely to be a technology expert and will not always be best placed to lead IT efforts. If they do, there is a risk that digital transformation efforts will not succeed or be as successful.

Therefore, it’s imperative that those who do have the expertise, such as the CIO or CTO, drive digital transformation strategies and garner the full support of the whole C-suite to ensure its success.

However, technology leaders do not need to carry the burden alone. Working with expert partners alleviates the pressure and ensures that they can follow best practices.

In particular, it allows them to develop the technology skills of their team so they are capable of pushing the business forward and meeting strategic objectives.

The digital revolution has led to a changing of the guard for businesses, and it’s technology leaders who will be taking the starring role and driving change.

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