Published in, Forbes

By, Stuart R. Levine

The pandemic accelerated the introduction of artificial intelligence in all aspects of our lives. The rapid emergence of the digitization of platforms is bringing with it the critical importance of the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Data indicates that 30% of current CTO’s expect their next role to be a CEO, which will require a new level of skills. Communication, leadership, the development of strategy and collaboration will become the differentiators for truly successful technology leaders.

In IBM’s recent 2021 CTO Study, “The CTO Revelation,”5,000 C-suite technology leaders were interviewed including both CTO’s and Chief Information Officers (CIOs), spanning twenty-nine industries and forty-five worldwide locations. The results of this data collection are critical to understand as we think about this next generation of CEOs.

Technology companies and technology professionals are driving profits, growth, and innovation. Big Tech’s top five companies, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft collectively increased their profits more than 55% in 2021 and grew sales 27% despite supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages and rising prices. The pandemic caused 55% of leaders to permanently course-correct their strategies, serving as a giant catalyst for tectonic change.

Despite the pandemic, these results are not an anomaly. They are the new reality. New technologies will be boosting productivity growth in the next decade and there is now soaring demand for everything digital. The five big technology firms spent $149 billion on R&D in 2021. The changes coming in the next two to three years in cloud computing, IoT, Advanced analytics, AI and 5G will remain over the next ten, but include new technologies such as Robotics and Robotic process automation (RPA) Natural language processing, edge computing autonomous vehicles, quantum computing and biological computing.

Over 20 years ago, we saw trends on the horizon of brilliant engineers coming from the best educational institutions, who were lacking the requisite leadership skills. We designed a program called Techno-Bridge© to train these talented individuals in building successful relationships based on core values, differentiating themselves as leaders and learning how to motivate their teams and built trust, developing better meeting agendas and stress reduction.

Prior to promoting people into leadership positions, a skills assessment relating to their ability to collaborate and build trust in the culture should occur. The CTO’s new role of rising to a position of influence to champion a more strategic and accountable vision of technology, requires their ability to communicate, collaborate and redefine themselves as leaders. They need to be able to share information effectively, understand the value of people, and the value of values in the organizational culture.

In our experience working with CIOs in the largest global organizations, their words “Explain why” were repeated regularly. Why is this important? Why does this matter? What does this mean for me, the organization, and our customers? Having important conversations about where technologies are going, based on values and the customer, provides context for not just innovating and providing new technologies for technology’s sake. These strategic discussions require openness and shared learning. Learning on the part of CEOs and other non-technology C-suite executives as well as learning by technology professionals on issues such as organizational culture, communication and what makes leaders successful.

In fairness, technology professionals are experts and know things that the average person may never understand. But that doesn’t mean that the CTO or CIO should have intellectual arrogance. CTOs can’t drive innovation without developing trusting relationships. Managing an extremely diverse global workforce requires respecting people from different backgrounds and different cultures. Creating collaborative relationships is critical. Even the relationship between the CTO and CIO needs to be collaborative to ensure the best possible creation and execution of strategy. Any artificial barriers that reduce fluid conversations must be eliminated. Balancing high-tech and high touch requires learning and new behaviors that take time to change. Energizing people and teams through process-driven thinking, leadership development and cultural alignment will be huge differentiators in the future.

One of the most poignant quotes in the IBM article is from Moises Nascimento, CTO, Banco Itau, “When everything becomes digital, technology becomes the core business, and the CTO becomes as key as the CEO.” With technology leaders heightened importance in the C-suite, which is sure to only strengthen in the future, their ability to empower exponential growth with the speed and scale of cloud technologies puts them at the center of any business model. They are driving transformation and business value at an astounding pace. With this rapid pace, comes a deep and critical need for responsibility around technology decisions and the speed of innovation. Understanding what success means and their impact on it, will determine whether business strategy and technology strategies are inextricable linked in a meaningful way.

Having the confidence to question the business becomes essential. The discipline of building bridges to the customer that link to product development will define success in the near term. Moving from technical positions to high-level management positions during this time of organizational complexity, requires the acquisition of new skills entirely which evolve over time through new behaviors and patterns. Having the stamina to focus on these issues at the same time as moving forward with innovation, will determine who wins and who loses.