Rise of the IT geek changes face of corporate leadership
Expect more and more company CEOs to come from the ranks of IT experts
Aradical shift is coming in the role of chief information officers, as their responsibility for information technology strategy evolves into a core business strategy role.
The result may well be that many of the business leaders of the near future will come from the ranks of CIOs, in much the same way that most of today’s CEOs have emerged from financial roles. For example, surveys show that one in four CEOs of the UK’s top 100 companies are chartered accountants, and more than half have a financial background.
However, financial performance is now so heavily dependent on technology strategy that the demands of the top spot are changing, according to Bask Iyer, CIO of both computer giant Dell Technologies and its cloud computing subsidiary, VMware. Having performed the CIO role for 25 years in companies as diverse as engineering conglomerate Honeywell and healthcare group GlaxoSmithKline, he believes no industry is immune to this change.
“The role of the CIO has changed every single year that I’ve been in that position. When I started it was just a guy who knew a little more than everybody else about computers. Then it evolved to become more about soft skills, then to leadership skills. Now it feels like the job is changing every six months.”
Iyer was speaking at the Dell Technologies World expo in Las Vegas, where 14 000 paying delegates came to learn how the 2016 merger between Dell Inc and EMC will benefit their businesses. The sheer scale of the deal was an indication of how important end-to-end technology service providers had become for the business world, he said.
“There are phases in a business when strategy is all about sales, and you need someone who is steeped in finance. But as businesses are being disintermediated by technology, the value and importance of the CIO is growing.
“Initially, you never talked IT to the leadership team. Now you’re leading the discussion more and more. Fewer and fewer CIOs sit in the back office. Now the expectation is that the CIO will be front and centre of the business.
“In the next five years you’ll see many more CIOs leading companies. That’s a company’s best bet to lead it through the digital transformation that is sweeping business. The future of any company is digital, and it’s not something you can quickly learn from a book or magazine.”
Iyer said while traditional leadership roles would not disappear into IT, they would be led by it.
“The finance of the future will be heavily based on digital. The same with human resources of the future, and marketing of the future. We know how to get lower costs and more productivity, but the business model has changed.
“HR can’t change fundamentally without digital; marketing can’t change fundamentally without digital. So it is the function that will influence every other function.”
The bottom line: a good CIO with good leadership skills will be in a good position to lead the company.