The importance of CTOs and CIOs has grown sharply in the face of digital acceleration. With it comes the need for greater effort in spreading the digital message – both internally and externally
The pandemic forced a rapid acceleration in efforts aimed at digital transformation. Companies are expected to spend $2.3 trillion on reinventing business processes to take advantage of new technologies such as cloud storage and artificial intelligence in 2023, up from $1 trillion in 2018. This has made technology critical to the success of any modern business – and the importance of those leading operations in this area has grown in parallel.
The rise in profile of technology within organisations has led to a corresponding uptick in the power of CTOs (chief technology officers) and CIOs (chief information officers), with more going on to become CEOs. In 2014, just three CEOs of FTSE 100 companies came from a technology background. Five years later, that had increased to 14.
This reflects the fact that technological innovation and how a company puts it to use is increasingly a competitive differentiator. It means that companies need their CTOs (who are typically externally focused) and CIOs (who usually concentrate on internal uses and platforms) to take on a greater role in corporate messaging, explaining applications and points of innovation succinctly and persuasively. These experts, in turn, need to develop a whole new skillset based around content and communications, so they can help drive commercial success by telling the stories of what they do and why. This is key to inspiring new audiences as well as retaining existing ones.
With the use of artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G cited as major strategic priorities for most CEOs in 2021, this corporate shift is here to stay. But for technologists to also play a leading role in content strategies, they and their companies must demonstrate that they can communicate effectively with the board, with customers, suppliers and more. It is also crucial that they take a lead in helping to deliver the digital message internally, explaining the opportunities and benefits of advanced technology and driving company ambition in this area. So what does that look like in practice?
The beating heart of modern business
Banging the drum for technological innovation is something that Jane Moran pioneered in her six years as Global CIO at consumer goods multinational company Unilever. Before leaving that role in December 2020, she regularly gave accessible explanations of how Unilever worked with specialist companies such as software giants Salesforce and Microsoft to develop great products and drive change, while a move to cloud enabled greater agility and scalability amid the company’s digital transformation.
Moran explained how she has used the Salesforce platform to empower non-technologists in Unilever to create their own apps, for example. Microsoft’s Internet of Things platform, meanwhile, allows the company to create a digital model, or ‘twin’, of a factory that can do things such as reorder the steps involved in making shampoo so they are more efficient. Even a decade ago, large consumer goods manufacturers would not have had cutting-edge technology use cases for companies like Microsoft to profile. Moran, however, drove close collaboration with key technology partners, making IT one of Unilever’s strategic pillars, and winning Consumer Goods Technology (CGT) CIO of the Year in 2018.
Technology leaders raise their voices
In the past 18 months, technology has dominated more than ever before as lockdowns and the sudden pivot to home working made a priority of the need to ensure employees could connect and collaborate, along with moving selling – and talking to existing and potential customers – firmly online.
As the initial wave of the pandemic spread, panic buying put grocery retailers under enormous pressure. Phil Jordan, CIO of Sainsbury’s, has taken on an increasingly high profile since early 2020 to share how the company’s digital transformation initiatives and cloud computing adoption had helped it fulfil 50 per cent more online orders and double the number of click-and-collect transactions when competitors were struggling. More recently he can be found giving his advice on leadership.
While many CIOs and CTOs share their expertise as interviewees or guests on news or opinion platforms, for those looking to raise their profile or set the agenda there are plenty of options to self-publish. Companies have ample opportunities to turn their best leaders into stars, from storytelling on their websites to highlighting innovations through newsletters or in their own videos.
Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott, for example, even has his own podcast, Behind the Tech, in which he interviews a range of technologists, as well as authors, musicians and scientists, on themes ranging from the role that public trust plays in scientific work to the importance of encouraging young people to study computer science. A new episode is published roughly once a month and the series has been running for three years.
Third-party services such as LinkedIn also offer significant opportunities. Åshild Hanne Larsen, who recently moved from CIO to vice president at Norwegian energy company Equinor, posts regular articles to her LinkedIn followers on everything from the energy transition to diversity in tech and future trends. Perhaps her background in HR gave her a head start when it comes to understanding the power of communication.
The value of having a voice
Busy technology leaders, who have more than enough on their plate, may well ask why they should devote time and effort to publishing their views and stories. The prime reason is that sharing expertise and authoritative opinion is the foundation of a good content marketing strategy, which builds brand awareness, increases trust and ultimately brings in more customers. And getting started does not have to be hard.
Easy and straightforward content entry points include live tweeting a conference, for example, or contacting the marketing department about being quoted in a press release. Potential news-making CTOs or CIOs can build from there, perhaps posting on their own LinkedIn profile and transferring to the company’s main page if they get a good response. They could also start a blog on newsworthy events from their sector and, again, move to the company’s main blog once they have built a following.
The growing importance of technology in every company means that the CTO or CIO’s view is increasingly relevant, both internally and externally. The future of technology in the workplace will involve greater use of automation, for example to adjust the lighting, cameras and microphones in a meeting room so that physical and remote attendees all get the best experience. Helpdesk queries and visitor appointments are among the processes that are likely to be handled by AI. Plenty of workers will have questions about these systems and how they work. CTOs and CIOs are the ideal people to answer them.
Also important is the fact that offering a glimpse of corporate culture can be valuable to those outside the business, such as potential employees. For example, a quarter of workers look for an employer with values that match their own – a figure that rises to 88 per cent among millennials. Sharing expertise in digital innovation, agile development and other vital technology topics makes a business more appealing to the best candidates.
These are just some of the reasons why getting star names involved in content can be beneficial for the organisation at large, as well as for the reputation of the executives themselves. The benefits would be just as clear for CMOs, CFOs and others in the C-suite, but there can be little doubt that today’s environment is ideal for technology leaders. It’s time for them to step forward and shine.