The x in CxO

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18 May 2016 | 0

There has been much debate about the newest variables for the x in CxO.

Data, digital, transformation and more, have been bandied about as potential values for this particularly techie algebraic expression.

With that debate over the value of x, has come even more argument over the potential value of these roles, and whether they are required at all.

One study from KPMG found that according to CEOs, CFOs should have more responsibility for technology across organisations. It seems that of 500 CEOs worldwide, most have a heightened expectation for the CFO to embrace innovation and implement the best new technology. Now forgive me if I’m showing my age here, but isn’t that the job of the CIO?

“Clarity is now pointing towards a sort of C-Suite standard model, at least where digitally inclined, or transforming, companies are concerned”

In KPMG’s report, CEOs said technology is the factor which will have the greatest effect on the future role of the CFO. However, many CEOs have expressed frustration at being unable to get the kind of transparency and visibility they expect, or the analytical insights they desire from the finance leads. In fact, less than half of CEOs think their finance functions are doing a good job of exploring and implementing new technology to meet the strategic priorities of the enterprise.

Tight budgets
“C-level executives want cutting edge technologies to improve their business operations and move ahead of their competition. But what most non-tech executives don’t appreciate – and CIOs do – is that actually implementing those technologies in the workforce isn’t always easy when budgets are tight and organisational strategies are considered,” said Denis Berry, principal, CIO advisory lead, KPMG.

With this recognition of the role if the CIO in facilitating major aspects of the business to explore, identify and implement technologies that will deliver for the business, it begins to sort things out a bit.

If this applies to finance and its reporting, it would surely apply to operations, HR and other critical sections. But as we are also seeing, with data being described as the new oil, is data and its use about to become a function alongside those more traditional ones mentioned above?

Standard model
This clarity is now pointing towards a sort of C-Suite standard model, at least where digitally inclined, or transforming, companies are concerned.

The CEO is pressing the CFO for greater clarity in reporting and insights. The CFO looks to the CIO for a means to do this, but should they not also be looking to a chief data officer who is a data scientist, tasked with aggregating, storing, assessing and best utilising the data within the enterprise?

A chief data officer (CDO) would have responsibility for gathering all that is best in the enterprise and then working with the respective business units to help them understand what can be done with the data to achieve intelligence from it — in exactly the same way the CIO works with the same entities to determine how technology, network systems, applications and infrastructure can support their respective ambitions.

The CTO is still on hand to manage the operational aspects of IT, while the CIO is working in the visionary, mentor, facilitator role, free from that worry of keeping the lights on.

The hierarchical structure would seem to be that the CEO determines the mission and direction of the company, with the CFO facilitating that through financial and business performance insights derived through the twin pillars of the CIO’s fulfilment of the vision through systems and technologies, and the CDO’s fulfilment of the insights and intelligence through the best use of data at the organisation’s disposal.

It could be argued that a CTO of slightly different definition, a chief transformation officer, could fit within this model too.

As the CFO determines what must be delivered to the CEO to achieve the mission and direction objectives, aided and abetted by the CIO in terms of technologies and platform, and populated by the CDO in terms of intelligence producing data, the longer term direction of the organisation as a digital entity would be overseen by the CTO. A transformation officer would be like a project manager that takes the CFO/CIO vision and manages the specific implementations until operational, as well as keeping an eye on the longer term picture, being particularly mindful of interdependencies and impacts. Now this function would really only distil into a role in the largest of companies, but it is still being mentioned.

A final throw of the algebraic dice, and again only for the largest organisations, would be the CISO. With everyone focused on business value, a single person with a completely holistic view of information security, from MFDs to SCDs, servers, networks and switchgear, still makes sense. The CISO would be just as comfortable ensuring that risks are mitigated in containers and VMs as they would protecting the CEO who is about to head out to assess a potential acquisition, the CFO closing a deal, or head of research discussing a potential partnership. In the same way that organisational security is no longer about the perimeter, information security is now about protecting assets wherever they are, and particularly if the assets are held in the fleshy storage between a high value individual’s ears.

Apart from the implication of having to have larger tables in the board room, having these various roles represented at the that top table will allow direct insights into how the organisation performs as a digital entity. With each of these officers sitting at the table, it should provide valuable discussion opportunities based on immediate insights on how existing efforts are faring, as well as the potential opportunities in new ones.

What it demands, however, is a greater level of cooperation than ever before, that can only be facilitated by leaving old ideas of fiefdoms and patches behind. All too often, when talking about stalled or failed transformation, change or development projects, is a common thread of protectionism — people who are reluctant to give up control of what they regard as “their” stuff. If this new standard model is to succeed, it will require cooperation, collaboration and co-working, regardless of perceived domains.

The potential for such an organisation, completely aligned with both the technologies and the opportunities of the new wave of digital, is huge. There are already examples of large organisations that have embraced digital to empower the business, and they consistently outperform their peers according to the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report 2015. These digital leaders have a very common thread too — they have quite a clear definition of the value of x in CxO.


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