After a year that thrust technology departments into the spotlight, technology executives are focusing on the leadership challenges around their people and culture ahead of IT project delivery. Meanwhile, the CEO agenda of growth, business model transformation, sustainability, diversity and the future of work is shaping how chief information officers, chief technology officers and equivalent digital and IT execs are prioritising their time and investment.
That is the key finding of Tech Monitor’s Technology Leaders Agenda 2021 study, published today. Supported by Hexaware Technologies, the Technology Leaders Agenda 2021 is based on a survey of 611 global digital, data, technology and IT leaders.
Aside from this increasing focus on the ‘softer’ side of leadership, data, cloud and cybersecurity are the focus of tech investments and the most in-demand skills. Implementing AI and machine learning is also now a priority, as these capabilities have reached a level of enterprise maturity.
In response to the survey findings, the project’s steering panel of CIOs and CTOs questioned whether their peers are being ambitious enough with their plans. More technology leaders responded they are focused on IT-business alignment than on digitisation and improving the customer experience, for example.
Breaking out of IT
Nadine Thomson, global CTO at media agency MediaCom, said: “The technology leader’s role should have moved past alignment to embedding technology in the business. Where leaders are still focused on the alignment stage it suggests the business has not adopted technology as a strategic pillar of its overall strategy.”
Paul Coby, CIO at FTSE 100 sustainable technologies company Johnson Matthey, added that the days of the technology leader as an IT delivery conduit were long gone. “The ‘tech leader’ of today must be so much more than the expert technologist who manages teams to deliver IT,” he said. “We must be strategic partners, enabling the purpose of our organisations, whilst of course sustaining existing competencies and developing new capabilities.
“The reputation of IT in the workplace has been greatly enhanced since the pandemic and there’s recognition that IT is a critical component – it is the lifeblood of the business.”
People and planet
People, culture, diversity and skills are revealed as the primary leadership concerns of technology execs. The survey showed that developing the diversity of their tech functions, followed by keeping staff motivated and engaged, and recruiting and retaining tech talent are the main priorities of digital, data and IT leaders.
This is no surprise to steering panel member Åshild Hanne Larsen, CIO at Norwegian energy company Equinor, since “diversity is at the core of successful tech delivery”.
"Technology creates the opportunity set – and is positioned to shape how we collaborate, work and even live our lives," Hanne Larsen says. "But to succeed we depend on collaboration between people who have different backgrounds, ideas and perspectives – because how can we develop the best solutions if the teams that make them do not reflect the diverse needs of our users or even the demographics in our societies?
"Finding new innovative ways of addressing challenges, new ways of working, new business opportunities and new technological advances – that all depends on our ability to innovate and think differently."
Sustainability is also a strategic business priority for tech leaders, the majority of whom are setting specific departmental strategies and targets in the technology function to help drive and realise company targets. Nevertheless, the steering panel called for more action from the tech leadership community on sustainability, as it will continue to rise as a priority for business leaders – and society.
[Download your copy of the Technology Leaders Agenda 2021]
Special projects editor
Edward Qualtrough is special projects editor for Tech Monitor.