Sergey Kravchenko - Fotolia

Fewer CIOs have a seat on the board but we still need technology leaders

This democratisation of technology still needs a leader, but it’s a healthy sign that discussion of tech has become part of business as usual at board level

It wasn’t so very long ago that IT was confined to the back office, contained within its own end-of-the-corridor function and regarded mainly as a form of infrastructure support.

Now, all that’s changed – narrow “IT” has become all-embracing technology and is seen as a crucial enabler, a dynamic connector (internal and external) and a tool for competitive advantage.

Despite economic headwinds and an uncertain global environment, investment intentions in tech are at their third-highest level in 15 years, the 2022 Nash Squared Digital leadership report reveals.

However, as technology spreads throughout the business, some things are changing. Counterintuitively, perhaps, fewer CIOs and digital leaders sit on the board now than was the case a few years ago (65% now, 71% in 2017). But that is really because technology is now seen as part of everyone’s responsibility, a ubiquitous enabler and simply part of how business is done.

This democratisation of technology still needs a leader – rather than being left to “gifted amateurs” – and this is usually still the CIO. But it is actually incredibly encouraging and healthy that discussion of technology has become part of business as usual at board level.

Digital leaders bringing board benefits

Nevertheless, our research shows that having a digital leader on the board delivers small but significant benefits – such as better customer experience and time-to-market for new products. This is a demonstration of the value that technology specialists bring to the top table: versed in agile methodologies, they are used to creating and managing fast bursts of change. This includes structuring change management programmes, so that they land well and add value quickly.

It is a key capability, and never more so than in today’s uncertain and unpredictable environment. Almost nine in 10 digital leaders say their business is experiencing more change and disruption than ever before. Organisational agility, adaptability and innovation become key, along with laser-focused operational efficiency and the ability to get more out of what businesses already have.

Investment prioritisation

CIOs and digital leaders are right on the leading edge of enabling the business to survive, adapt and thrive. They have come such a long way since the days of simply “keeping the lights on” and have much, much more to bring to the table as the transformation journey continues.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given current conditions, we see signs in this year’s research of investment into some emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data slowing a little. I expect this to be a pause, a taking stock and prioritisation, before the pace picks up again.

Certainly, I would counsel digital leaders to be bold and not let short-term factors deflect them from long-term commitment to technology transformation which, after all, can be a key enabler of productivity and innovation gains.

Tipping point ahead

So, what does the future hold? One mistake that people often make is to say that technology will eventually just become a “utility” to a company. While that is definitely the case with some technology, I think we live in a world where we have only just begun to see the impact – both good and bad – of tech on business.

AI, big data, immersive technology such as augmented reality (AR) and the metaverse, and other developments like the incredible recent news that a brain has been grown that can play video ping pong – all point to a future that is full of possibilities.

Yes, look how far we’ve come – but at the same time, we’re still only at the beginning. The Industrial Revolution changed the world in the 19th century; we are on the verge of a new technological revolution in the 21st. The pieces are assembling and, I think, we will eventually come to a tipping point, after which the pace of change will accelerate dramatically and become increasingly visible in the world around us.

How far off that tipping point is, no one really knows. But it’s coming, and digital leaders right now are playing their part in facilitating it as they invest in new technology and help to transform their organisations, bit by bit. I am excited about the journey ahead.

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