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Three ways to extend a digital vision beyond the tech team

The role of the CIO will change radically if every business is expected to become a tech innovator

CIOs and chief technology officers (CTOs) have always championed the value that technology brings, with improved efficiencies, forecasting and operations being some of the biggest benefits foretold.

But technologists are applying software and hardware capabilities in increasingly lateral ways, meaning tech is no longer the preserve of the essential nuts and bolts of a business – it’s driving business ambition, purpose and re-invention too.

Whether artificial intelligence (AI) is applied to omit bias, blockchain to drive sustainability, or wearable tech to enhance the customer experience, the applications of technology are not only limitless, they have become a core part of business strategy.

According to research conducted in conjunction with Accenture’s Technology vision 2021, this has surged in the wake of the pandemic, where tech has become so integral to business priorities that more than eight in 10 business leaders (83%) believe their technology and business strategies are now inseparable, while more than three-quarters (77%) report that success is dependent on their technology stack.

But effectively becoming a technology-enabled organisation requires much more than a pledge to digitally transform – it requires a technology vision, strategic investment and, most importantly, a new kind of leadership.

Put simply: transforming the enterprise into a technology leader cannot be contained to the oversight of the CIO or CTO alone. To be successful, a digital-first approach must be fostered by the entire C-suite and manifested across all areas of the organisation.

So how can digital dexterity evolve from the tech team and permeate every department? Here are three things for businesses to consider.

1. Re-architect the boardroom

The university degrees of high-profile tech CEOs are predominantly, and unsurprisingly, rooted in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). But there’s been an increasing call for CEOs to have this expertise outside of the tech sector too, as seen with Amazon recently naming the CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its new CEO, for example.

It’s a trend that will likely proliferate in the wake of Covid-19, with 69% of UK business leaders calling for CEO roles to be filled by those with tech backgrounds to ensure successful business since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The benefits of the tech-literate CEO are hard to overstate. If a business wants to transform around digital, then every employee needs galvanising for that mission – a figurehead who’s knowledgeable and passionate about technology is therefore needed at the helm.

This doesn’t all point toward a reckoning in the boardroom – countless businesses such as Alibaba and AirBnB have founders outside of the tech arena – but what it does point to is the need for business leaders to get tech-savvy, and fast.

This requires constant collaboration and learning from the CIO and CTO, reframing their thinking of technology as an overhead cost to a driver of strategic value, and adjusting their mindset of digital from a “challenge to be completed” to a culture of continuous change.

Employees will only embrace this cultural change once business leaders do; if leaders don’t, they risk falling behind competitors or provoking calls for a boardroom shuffle.

2. I, Technologist

However, digital literacy doesn’t just require nurturing in the boardroom, it needs to become a prerogative for all employees, no matter what department they sit in. This means implementing an increased focus on training in digital basics, as well as investment in tools that empower employees to build their own programmes and applications.

This includes the deployment of natural language processing and robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities, which allow general workers to understand huge swathes of data and automate actionable insights. Self-service applications, low-code and no-code workflows should also be considered so that all employees are able to build the workflows and applications they need without reliance on developer teams.

There are strong signals that businesses are already empowering employees to become technologists in their own right, with Gartner forecasting low-code adoption to increase by 22.6% in 2021 as organisations look to draft citizen developers and deploy new applications at pace.

However, for businesses to truly foster grassroots innovation in digital, there’s a critical element of the technology stack they must consider before they implement these self-serve software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications: the cloud.

3. Look to the cloud

Business leaders should recognise that cloud technologies are much more than the CIO’s favourite buzzword. Accenture’s research into the FTSE 350’s tech investment trends reveals that cloud capabilities are key drivers of financial performance, with the strongest performers significantly more likely to discuss cloud technologies such as virtualisation, DevOps and the internet of things (IoT) in their 2020 annual reports.

Therefore, as businesses look to become tech-driven, they must ensure their tech stack is supported by a robust cloud infrastructure. Not only does this emancipate them from the burden of legacy systems, it allows them to transform to a platform-driven business that can draw on numerous digital capabilities to quickly scale to the priorities of today and forecast for the needs of tomorrow.

For businesses to achieve the greatest return on investment from their cloud migrations, they must avoid settling for a limited “lift and shift” model.

Cloud migration is not about re-homing the datacentre, it’s about stacking strategically, incorporating AI, DevOps, microservices, IoT – any technologies that ladder up to a business’s strategic vision – and connecting this intelligence within a single architecture. And it’s the strategic vision for cloud migration that’s crucial – business leaders need to know it like the back of their hand.

Let there be change

As businesses aim to pivot from reactionary adapting to creating strategic new opportunities following the pandemic, they must look beyond tech investment and become truly tech-driven.

To do so successfully, the old adage of “people, processes and technology” still stands the test of time. Namely, business leaders must develop first-rate technology know-how to lead the charge in their organisation; employees must be empowered to become technologists in their own right; and finally, the right tech stack – underpinned by cloud – must be implemented to future-proof the business.

Put simply: digital must become the North Star of the business, uniting leadership, management and employees alike through the capabilities it brings, its agile way of working, and culture of continuous transformation.

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