Recently, for instance, Whole Foods Markets promoted Jason Buechel from global vice president to executive vice president and chief information officer, making him a member of the management team at the company.
“Technology is essential to our customer experience, our team member experience, our ability to compete, and our ability to effectively deliver return on invested capital,” said Glenda Flanagan, Whole Foods’ chief financial officer.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Domino’s elected a tech startup chief to its board of directors. Andy Ballard is CEO and cofounder of Quad Analytix, which invests in digital media. Domino’s has blazed a trail in the use of digital media, especially in the customer experience, and Ballard said he is looking forward to lending his technology and marketing expertise.
Dennis Zeleny, who most recently was chief HR officer of Sunoco and who is a foremost consultant to CEOs on corporate culture and human relations, told CEO Briefing that 4 trends have come together to “transform the chief IT role from that of just a technology expert to a business-leadership role.” They are:
1. CEOs need proactive tech experts. The role of the CIO or lead technology officer has changed “from overseeing inputs and outputs and making sure this is done cost-effectively to providing useful information to leaders to make strategy decisions and help determine what is possible and to run the business with a proactive rather than reactive approach,” Zeleny explained.
2. Tech is where many new risks reside. Consider the cases of the dozens of major companies whose businesses have been turned upside down by hacking, including the accessing of millions of customer records. “This is another area where the board has become very involved, and increasingly it shows up as an ongoing topic on their calendars for discussion and review,” Zeleny said. “So the IT leader of today plays a huge role in corporate risk management and mitigation.”
3. The demands on tech leaders have broadened. No longer, Zeleny said, can IT leaders “know all the technology—it’s just too vast and ever-developing.” Rather, he said, their role has become one “to assess and bring together talent and coalesce a team that has all the required knowledge, and orchestrate their efforts so they can work across boundaries to build the requisite networks.” Today’s tech leaders must be broad enough to possess strong communications and managerial skills in what Zeleny called a “transition from geek to business partner.”
4. The stakes have risen for tech projects. Companies used to be able to switch computing platforms or enterprise-software systems in a relatively obscure way as long as there were no monumental screw-ups. But now, Zeleny noted, tech projects “are often one of the most expensive internal costs and most complicated projects a corporation” takes on. They are under a “higher level of board scrutiny. unlike in years past.” Ultimately accountable for the success of these endeavors, CEOs are striving to raise the qualifications and impact of those in charge of such projects to “a place worthy of the C-suite.”
Given these dynamics, it’s likely that more CEOs and boards will be elevating their technology functions and chief technology officers in the months and years ahead.