Who in the C-suite owns emerging technology?

Dividing up ownership and responsibility doesn’t have to be a clash of Titans.

two men arm wrestling face off battle
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Digital transformation may seem like a glimpse into the future as we start implementing artificial intelligence, blockchain, and robots, but companies have been driving toward this cloud-enabled, data-driven future for nearly 10 years. The technologies we’re implementing may be new, but the problems transformation creates in the organization are not.

Take the clash in the c-suite over who owns emerging technology, and who’s responsible for it. The answer is never easy, and I’ve seen it lead to lots of confusion and bickering between CMOs and CIOs, or CTOs and CDOs.

For example, who’s responsible for mobile across the enterprise, or cloud? Even a small company may use half a dozen different public and hybrid clouds. With emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and Internet of Things, the roles are probably not pre-assigned.

When companies are trying to move fast on digital transformation, executives can easily duplicate effort or clash over priorities. It’s not uncommon for CMOs and CIOs to fight over who controls the budget for emerging technology. As measured in in PwC’s Digital IQ study, the percentage of technology spending outside the CIO’s budget has climbed steadily from 35 to 50 to 68 percent in our most recent report.

In the 19 percent of companies with a CDO or equivalent role, you might overhear gnashing of teeth within the C-suite over who controls the customer experience, product management, and back-office integration of flashy new experiences.

Who owns the role?

CIO

CDO

CMO

CEO

CFO

Business Unit leaders

IT and internally-focused strategic digital investments

77%

0%

1%

10%

10%

1%

Data and analytics

50%

1%

1%

14%

2%

32%

Developing new digital services and business models

48%

4%

15%

22%

1%

7%

Setting digital strategy

43%

3%

2%

48%

0%

1%

Prioritizing digital investments

33%

4%

4%

49%

8%

1%

Innovation and emerging technology investment

32%

1%

0%

34%

18%

13%

User experience design

30%

1%

31%

13%

1%

19%

Product-focused investments and activities

17%

1%

6%

32%

32%

9%

Customer-facing services and applications

16%

1%

44%

24%

0%

9%

Digital marketing and customer engagement

16%

2%

67%

5%

0%

6%

Even worse than infighting is ignoring the problem whenever the roles aren’t clear. In those situations, the work simply doesn’t get done or it gets done twice without coordination.

Guiding the conversation

These are not new conflicts, but emerging technology gives them new urgency, with new complications. The solution isn’t new either; it starts with a meaningful conversation, and maybe a back-of-the-envelope chart. 

When I sit down with clients, I ask: What functions do you want to own, and what do you think you should own? Then the most telling question: What do you have the skills to own today? Starting by understanding each member of the C-suite’s areas of strength reduces the friction and sets you up for success.

Key members of the C-suite are responsible for a broad domain. The CEO is ultimately responsible for the business; the CMO for the customer experience; and the CIO/CTO for the technology. But by applying a “BXT” framework (that combines the perspectives of Business, Experience, and Technology), organizations can then gain more clarity by looking through each lens (the B, X and T), and assign ownership of each new function.

The shape of the CDO role varies considerably depending on the company and the industry. In consumer-intensive sectors such as banking or retail, the CDO may report to the CMO or even CEO as a digital customer advocate; in industrial sectors, a CDO may work closely with or report to the CIO to scout digital ideas from outside the company.

To guide the conversation about who owns what, it might help to draw a Venn diagram, placing various functions in the Business, Experience, and Technology spheres. It also might help to fall back on a trusted business tool: the RACI matrix, identifying for each function who is:

  • Responsible
  • Accountable
  • Consulted
  • Informed

As you divide up roles and functions, ask: Is the function customer-facing? It probably belongs with the CMO and the Experience team. How much integration does it require? If it’s significant, the CIO needs to be consulted and informed, if not responsible and accountable. Who has the skills needed to oversee the function successfully? Your best strategist, or your most creative disruptor may not be sitting in the chairs you expect.

Of course, there will be functions that overlap. In those cases, the simplest solution is often to point to the executive who can deliver the innovation most quickly, without having to upskill or expand their budget significantly.

Just by sitting down and drawing out the basic roles and responsibilities, companies can move past the conflict, and execute their digital transformation with purpose and speed. Successful digital transformations depend on collaboration and partnership within the company – and that’s only possible when the roles are clear.

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