Industry has declared "every company is a tech company" for years. It's a tired statement, but impossible to ignore as data sneaks in to every facet of a business. Companies need technology to adapt and innovate, unable to depend on legacy products for long-term sustainability.
But the omnipresence of technology has not forced generations of leaders to evolve; some dwell in industry of the past, sparking a crisis of competition for the future of companies.
In a global survey of more than 4,000 leaders MIT Sloan Management Review and Cognizant found only 10% of respondents "strongly agree" their organizations are equipped with the "right skills" for competition in the digital economy.
Only 12% of respondents said their business leaders "have the right mindset to lead them forward," according to the report. The coming era of business requires digital skills, but the pipeline is lagging and business leaders are not confident about prospects moving forward.
There is a generation of leaders in large organizations who are not tech savvy, according to Benjamin Pring, director of the Center for the Future of Work for Cognizant.
It's a disconnect which threatens companies' long-term ability to compete as businesses become more tech-centric. "If you don't love technology, it's impossible to optimize it," Pring told CIO Dive.
Pring likened the discomfort to, hypothetically, the CEO of Ford or General Motors disliking cars. If a company is looking to optimize, it requires CEO buy-in for innovation of the core product.
Executives learn comfort with technology by exposure, immersion into a new, technologically-refined world. This is where chief information officers can step in and offer guidance into business renovation, a hallmark of technologists such as CIO Dive's CIO of the Year, Experian's Barry Libenson.
But CIOs aren't saviors. They have clamored to get into the boardroom and executive suites for the last 20-30 years, said Pring. While they have rapport, "they've frankly done a bad job," of getting peers to love technology.
Fault is not on CIOs alone. Executives have historically seen technology as a "necessary evil," he said. Business leaders need to understand how the next generation thinks about and uses technology.
You don't want to be "out of tune" with the next generation, Pring said.
Where the CIO comes in
It's not all doom and gloom. Technologists are aware of the disconnect in business leaders understanding how IT and digital capabilities can impact the overall health of an enterprise.
CIO conversations center around digital capabilities, and not about the value that was created, said Shafqat Azim, partner, digital strategy and solutions at ISG, in an interview with CIO Dive. They require a "human middleware" between the board and CEO and the technologist CIO.
In some companies, this is where the chief digital officer steps in — a translator to illustrate the business value of digital efforts, according to Azim. They help show the impact of tech, not ins and outs of how tech operates.
Not all CIOs require a business translator. Emerging generations of CIOs don't require human middleware to illustrate the business value of technology.
A successful CIO has to constantly translate and learn, Brook Colangelo, VP and CIO, Waters Corporation, told CIO Dive. As a CIO in 2020, the core principle is, "you see end-to-end."
In his role, Colangelo works with everything from HR to product development. His calendar is "code switching" across products to ensure the technology needs of the business are met.
Teaching technology and helping leaders across the C-suite under its value is a chief responsibility of a CIO, Colangelo said. "I think it's part of your core DNA."
Colangelo has served as a CIO since 2007 and spent four years as CIO of the White House between 2009 and 2013. Since he began, "the role of the CIO has completely expanded and grown," Colangelo said. His world includes everything from looking at potential M&A that could help growth to leading digital strategy.
"It's a mindset shift," he said. "Command and control was en vogue 10-plus years ago." Now, CIOs are more in tune with aligning tech to business strategy and empowering teams.