C-suite of the future will call for executives without borders

C-suite of the future will call for executives without borders


The C-Suite isn’t what it used to be. Nor is it now what it is destined to be.

New roles are coming to the fore, while traditional roles are undergoing significant changes to meet the shifting demands of technology, workers and society at large.

There are more titles being added to the C-Suite mix, such as chief digital officer, chief data officer, chief innovation officer and chief analytics officer, among others.

With that comes a new chapter for traditional titles as well. The CIO and CFO roles are ideal cases in point. Both are undergoing significant changes in an environment of rapid digital transformation.

There is a well-known joke in technology circles that CIO stands for Career Is Over, says Charlotte Wang, chief technology officer for IBM Technology Services in Toronto. “Information was the currency when the role CIO (chief information officer) was coined in the mid-1980s. Then we saw the advent of chief technology officer and chief innovation officer as business recognized the need for that technology bent in the C-Suite.”

Historically, CIOs were relied upon to have a technology and engineering background. Today, they also need the skills and competencies to communicate with the board in a language they understand, whether it’s profit and loss, customer acquisition strategies or business outcomes, says Chris Bedi, Global CIO at ServiceNow in Santa Clara, Calif., an enterprise cloud company specializing in digital transformation.

“Boardroom conversations are now about how to leverage technology for higher productivity,” he says. “The chief information officer has to be more strategic than ever. Now they also have to be able to drive cultural transformation across the company.”

Another significant change in the CIO role is the need for greater collaboration within the ecosystem, Bedi notes. During a typical workday, “they might be meeting with a chief marketing officer and talking conversion rates and applying machine learning; the next might be with the CFO on how to drive improvement in revenues and GDPR compliance. Yet another conversation might be with sales around creating a greater customer experience, or with the head of talent about improving the employee experience. Today’s CIO has to be adept at pivoting for all those conversations.”

A new set of capabilities has to be put in place, such as the curiosity factor around data, quantitative analysis and communications

Bob Vokes, Accenture Canada

Bob Vokes, managing director, financial services, for Accenture Canada, says the CFO’s role is undergoing an equally significant shift. A recent Accenture report, “The CFO Reimagined: From Driving Value to Building the Digital Enterprise,” states that today’s CFOs are moving beyond finance functions and playing a more critical role in driving digital disruption within their organizations.

According to the report, 76 per cent of CFOs recognize that finance skills will continue to move away from core finance to advanced digital, statistics, operational and collaborative skills. In addition, 78 per cent say the change must be rapid and drastic, as traditional finance roles may soon become obsolete.

“A new set of capabilities has to be put in place, such as the curiosity factor around data, quantitative analysis and communications,” Vokes explains. “That shift starts by having an open mind set on how to develop the new financial insight perspective. Then the question is, do they have the right tools, data, people and skills to drive the process?”

Getting CFOs or any other incumbent to a more appropriate level is not something that can be achieved with a snap of the fingers, Vokes says. “It takes time and a combination of events. One is changing internal hiring practices and profiles and looking for up-and-coming people that have a nice blend of quantitative and communicative skills.”

It’s important to start remixing the DNA of people coming in

Bob Vokes, Accenture Canada

Organizations looking to transition their board need to start with internal talent, Wang agrees. “That’s No. 1. I’m continually amazed how boards or executives dismiss their own employees. They think someone in infrastructure operations doesn’t understand business. But they absolutely do because they keep the lights on, know where the data is, and how the network operates.”

In the new skills economy, hiring from within will enable companies to find people who want to get out of engineering and be innovators, she notes. “We don’t let these people go because we have automated. We harvest them because they know the business.”

The next steps are providing internal support structures to help them expand their capabilities through additional support and training, and applying the technology tools to ensure that they have the right access to the right information.

External hiring processes also need to be revised. As Vokes says, “It’s important to start remixing the DNA of people coming in. When you combine that with internal training and support and tooling capabilities, it will all come together.”

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