Why you don’t need a Chief [insert new tech name here] Officer

The next time you read a call to action about the need for a new CXO role, you can apply these three steps to take a more disciplined approach to getting to grips with the technology or trend and seizing the opportunity.

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In recent years, as each new emerging technology or trend has appeared, we’ve seen widespread calls by tech and industry pundits for organizations to create new CXO positions specifically for each technology or trend.

We’ve seen this for roles such as Chief [Data, Data Visualization, Customer, Employee Experience, Behavioral, Reputation, Trust, Culture, Engagement, Listening, Execution, Agility, Design, Social Media, Learning, Readiness, Green, Communications, Connection, Internet of Things, AI, Machine Intelligence, Blockchain, Futures] Officer and many others.

While it’s tempting to create these new positions to get to grips with the business implications of the technology or trend in question, and to take advantage of the opportunities presented, if you were to act on all this advice you’d likely have over 20 new CXOs reporting directly into the CEO or tiered in elsewhere across the C-suite.

In 90% of these cases, you don’t need a Chief [insert new tech name here] Officer and you can pursue far more efficient and effective approaches to get up to speed and seize the opportunity. Here’s a three-step approach to help you assess each opportunity as it arises:

1. Determine the strategic significance of this position to your organization

The first step is to evaluate the strategic significance of the technology or trend to your organization. Why is it important and why now? What’s the impact of early versus late adoption? What are some of the business scenarios and use cases in your specific industry?

Regarding the CXO role itself, why is this organizational role necessary? Is this an internal role simply to help the organization get up to speed or a customer-facing role to represent this subject matter to customers and other stakeholders?

If we take AI as an example, according to McKinsey, it’s estimated that AI has the potential to deliver additional global economic activity of around $13 trillion by 2030, or about 16 percent higher cumulative GDP compared with today. This amounts to 1.2 percent additional GDP growth per year. Along with this growth comes the potential of a growing digital divide in business performance between early adopters of AI (potentially doubling cash flow by 2030) and laggards or non-adopters (potentially a 20 percent decline in cash flow by 2030).

For many organizations, AI is clearly of high strategic significance and timing of adoption is crucial to avoid the looming digital divide.

2. Assess current competencies across the organization

The second step is to determine where this competency is currently located within your organization and what knowledge and skills you have in place today. Who is currently on point for this technology or trend, if anyone? Where does your organization stand in terms of maturity? Where are you already applying it within your business? Which groups understand both the business implications of the technology or trend as well as the technical nuts and bolts? Which groups would make sense for strategy and execution?

Using our AI example, if you find there’s limited AI awareness, knowledge or skills within the current technology organization, it may be time to put in measures to fill the gap. Particularly if you’re in an industry that’s an early adopter of the technology such as high tech, telecom, automotive, assembly and financial services.

Ideally, your technology organization should have an emerging technology radar function which proactively looks out for emerging trends, researches them, develops a point of view for the organization, and ultimately a strategy and roadmap – working closely with the business.

3.  Use the gap analysis to determine the best approach to fill the role

With insights into the strategic significance of the technology or trend and an understanding of your current competencies across the organization, the third step is to determine the best approach to fill the role. If high significance and only a low gap, or vice versa, you can likely assign the role to the most appropriate department as an interim measure to quickly close the gap. 

In the case of AI, this may involve working with your CIO to determine if she/he will personally take on the role or perhaps appoint someone in their department to temporarily take on the charter. In doing so, it will be important to clearly establish the requirements of the role and the anticipated duration which may be several years. With any emerging technology, such as AI, blockchain or the Internet of Things, the important thing will be to ensure strategies and plans are clearly tied into the bigger-picture business strategy and digital transformation strategy which should be one and the same.

The person on-point, for however how long, should also work across the business to ensure key pillars of organizational maturity are addressed such as culture, governance, change management and digital skills as well as the technical aspects – so look for highly collaborative leaders who are well-versed in working across both business and IT.

Spotting the rare exceptions

While most of these new CXO roles can be assigned temporarily and without hiring from the outside or creating an entirely new job description, there are some rare exceptions where a completely new CXO position may be required.

This has been the case with the role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). For many companies, the CDO role has been a necessity due to the existential threat of digital disruption and the multi-functional requirements of the role – which put it beyond the comfort-level and core competencies of traditional CMOs, CIOs and CTOs. During this time, the CDO role has been instrumental in helping numerous organizations develop their digital transformation strategies, improve their digital maturity, and collaborate across the business to put strategy into action.

In the future, as organizations get more and more up to speed with digital transformation as a discipline, build their maturity, and become more coordinated across the C-suite in terms of strategy and execution, it’s likely this role will revert to being spear-headed by the CIO or CMO depending on your industry.

The next time you read a call to action about the need for a new CXO role, you can apply these three steps to take a more disciplined approach to getting to grips with the technology or trend and seizing the opportunity. In 90% of the cases, you just need to assign someone to be on point and you don’t need an addition to the C-suite.

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