Rise of the IT geek changes face of cor­po­rate lead­er­ship

Sunday Times - - The Back Page - Arthur Goldstuck

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.

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