Redefining the Mandate and Role of Your Top Technology Executive

Leadership StrategiesLeadershipDigital TransformationTechnology, Data, and Digital OfficersBoard and CEO AdvisoryTeam Effectiveness
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April 17, 2020
3 min read
Leadership StrategiesLeadershipDigital TransformationTechnology, Data, and Digital OfficersBoard and CEO AdvisoryTeam Effectiveness
There is a tremendous need for a singular leader who can integrate and align new and old platforms in order to support the business in a seamless ‘omnichannel’ way.


Crossing the digital divide: the urgent and immediate imperative

CEOs of legacy companies are under tremendous pressure to think differently about their organizations’ technology functions. As future-focused enterprises begin to shed outdated operational and organizational models, many are increasingly self-identifying as “technology companies,” regardless of primary industry. And in every industry and every region, COVID-19 has forced leaders to rapidly accelerate and evolve their approaches to these transformation strategies. The most progressive leaders realize that a fundamentally different kind of technology executive is now needed to head these efforts.

CEOs who view technology as a platform, rather than infrastructure, appreciate that it is critical to align technology capabilities under one leader who is responsible for advising the entire executive committee on transformation and change. The mandate of this modern technology leader includes accountability for the entirety of the organization – from the outer reaches of customer interactions to the reformation of core infrastructure.

Elevated impact + expanded mandates + evolved titles

Until recently, Chief Information Officer (CIO) was the predominant title for top technology executives; however, that is changing. Our research shows that a full third of companies within the Fortune 500 have adapted the title to reflect the broader skillsets and span of responsibility expected of this new class of executive. Often, these titles become “hybrids,” such as Chief Information and Digital Officer. Further, this trend is not simply a large company phenomenon; we’ve witnessed a similar pattern at midcap portfolio companies. Private equity firms are also introducing these new roles and titles to support the transformation agendas within their portfolios.

Past, present & future models

To the detriment of transformation efforts, organizational structures have often failed to evolve in alignment with the development of new functions. A common challenge during these transformations is friction created when companies add new capabilities in digital and data that report into the CEO, but circumvent the CIO. While these direct linkages may have been effective during the early days of digital adoption, the maturing of data and digital technologies has made fluency in newer platforms a must for today’s technology executives. Therefore there is tremendous need for a singular leader who can integrate and align new and old platforms in order to support the business in a seamless ‘omnichannel’ way (see below). To date, the companies that have adopted this approach tend to be farther along the transformation curve. We believe that creating this structure is a key catalyst for those trying to keep up.

Repositioning current leaders

How should current technology leaders reimagine both their current organizational structure and individual career path?

  • Recognize that both the organization and the CEO need the tech leader to be a strategic business partner capable of taking a broader, more aligned view of the organization.

  • “Traditional” technology leaders need to seek opportunities to become increasingly strategic and customer-centric.

  • Digital leaders who want to move into the top job need to understand core technology and platforms, not just front-end strategy. The best “new” technologists can create a bridge across the entire platform.

  • In some cases, due to their skill sets, non-technical CEOs of acquired tech companies have become the senior most tech executive in the organization with P&L responsibilities, not just functional alignment.

Questions CEOs should be asking

As the role of the top technology executive rapidly develops into that of a business leader and enabler, we expect to see a continued evolution of the title, elevation of the mandate and increased opportunity for impact. CEOs can leverage this leadership-driven shift to redefine their organizations, empower their teams and attract new kinds of senior talent – all of which are ultimately critical elements required to move transformations forward. These are the questions they should be asking themselves:

  1. What is the “future state” of our business and what roles do technology and data need to play to support a more customer connected and agile business?

  2. Does our technology organization have the correct structure and capabilities? Are our next-generation technology and data platforms aligned with our core infrastructure and IT groups?

  3. Do we have a single leader who can manage a seamless approach across all new and legacy platforms? If not, is it time to rethink the mandate and role of our “Top Technology Officer”?

  4. Do we have a “modern” leader in each of our core technology functions (infrastructure/cloud, customer-facing applications, data analytics, AI, security) who reports to the top technology executive? Are we maximizing the potential from our current team and through strategic new hires?

  5. How can we drive better engagement from our board, executive team and technology organization to move from an IT mindset to an agile/software engineering mindset across the organization?