Information Technology (IT) was never a much loved function for executives. As well as their use of distinct languages of tech jargons vs. business vocabulary, the perception of executives to be “dependent” on IT played a key role in creating this situation. Often perceived as a cost factor (and therefore placed under the control of the head of finance), this “necessary evil called IT” was for decades confined to a strategy of “keep it running, but keep it cheap”.
But something is changing in this relationship, and the recent IBM CxO study puts forward the evidence.
Executives are now deeply concerned about the possibility of “Uberizations”: while in the past one could see competition coming, for example a new rival with better or cheaper products or services, today’s competitors are popping up apparently from nowhere. Like Uber or Airbnb, modern competition leverages technologies to redefine or even disrupt old ways of doing business.
Consequently, executives start understanding how technology can disrupt existing business models: within the broad field of technologies, they see now what part IT can play, so they start feeling the strategic importance of IT.
Terminologies like Big Data and Internet of Things reached the offices at top floors, augmenting executives’ discomfort, adding to what they learn from their tech savvy children at home.
The consequence is that, as the study reveals, “CEOs put technology at the top of the <priority> list … and members of the C-suite see technology as the main game-changer”.
So, what to do about this? At companies there is substantial uncertainty in how to proceed, where to place bets for the future, how to verify possible returns, and where to change the organization to assure quick value delivery. Therefore, I observe companies creating new positions with the intention of translating, interfacing, and liaising between executives and IT. This is often done with the scope of substantially enhancing existing skills and new capabilities, to help executives understand complex opportunities and to take decisions.
Who is best for these new positions, an internal or an external candidate? Well, there are multiple triggers pointing in both directions, but let’s start with the most logical answer: if giving priority to the right skills, of course it is not important where the candidate comes from. As it’s all about making possible disruptions understandable for the company’s executives, the following seven questions – if approached with honesty – are crucial to decide whether to fill the position internally or externally:
Would new blood be beneficial, or can we risk complacency?
Have we been successful so far, or do we need new ways of managing <senior> stakeholders?
Do we really see what happens outside, or do we have a limited view from the inside-out?
Where is the evidence showing that internally we understand how new technology affects end-to-end business processes and business models?
How much change is necessary to speed up execution in building solutions that are increasingly agile and easily customizable?
Will our executives see a sign of change and sense of urgency in appointing a new person or get the impression that IT is defending its business-as-usual by hiring internally?
Are we measuring the right things or do we need new aspirational metrics to gauge our progress?
However, there is much more to this kind of hiring decision process than just logic. Dynamics such as the culture of the company and of the reporting manager, the stakeholders’ individual interests, and the immediate priorities of the line manager and of the company as a whole, are just a few examples of why a non-logical, skill-based” decision process might take place.
For example, take a reporting manager who is close to retirement. She will most likely avoid rocking the boat at the end of her career. Hiring an external person would be a potential risk – How will the new person tick? Will they be a threat to my image? And what if their ideas are too good? And if their consulting skills are better than mine? – that’s the classic “sustaining” attitude of a manager.
I don’t want to stereotype retiring managers. For sure, there are other behaviors out there where real strategic thinkers keep their long-term oriented, continuous improvement mantras to the end of their careers. Nevertheless, my call for action goes to the CxOs:
To succeed, executives have to lead the company through this change: they may leverage a translator or interface to make IT understandable, but they have to negotiate with their functions, skills, and pace for this journey.
(picture compliment of Lionbridge.com)