AT&T's Martin Creighan Offers Advice on Fostering a Tech Culture in the Boardroom

"With tech innovators and early adopters leapfrogging ahead in a range of industries, technology is now at the top of the business agenda," writes Creighan.

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(Originally published on ATT.com)

Corporate boards are waking up to a new reality. With tech innovators and early adopters leapfrogging ahead in a range of industries, technology is now at the top of the business agenda. What does your board expect in 2018 and what will it take to satisfy it?

Disrupters set the pace

Singapore's Grab ride-hailing service and China's Mobike and Ofo bike-sharing companies are transforming urban transport. But innovators are setting the pace of change everywhere. New and established companies alike are using technology to deliver services that make life easier and more fun. They're transforming media and entertainment, retail, healthcare, telecoms, financial services, and more – faster than ever before.

It seems that no one is immune. And we expect this to continue in 2018 and beyond as the world reaches a critical mass of digital natives. We're seeing an increasingly influential, tech-savvy population defaulting to digital.

CIOs under pressure

This is causing a fundamental shift. Regardless of the industry, many boards now believe their businesses are technology companies. And they have very high expectations of what IT can deliver.

CIOs are expected to digitize the business, create transformational tech solutions and disrupt the competition – all while keeping things running at the right cost and with the highest level of security.

This goes beyond IT. CIOs are now responsible for innovation and transformation. Unfortunately, they often lack the in-house skills and resources to deliver this increasingly tough mandate.

What can CIOs do?

  • Foster a tech culture in the boardroom.

The Gartner 2018 CIO Agenda survey found that CIOs from the most digitally mature companies are more likely to sit on the executive committee and report to the CEO than CIOs at typical and trailing enterprises. This gives them a broader understanding of company issues and more influence. And they can gain greater insight into the board's motivations and mindset.

Board members may want the CIO to explore how disruptive technologies, like artificial intelligence, natural language processing, the Internet of Things or blockchain, to help the business. It's up to the CIO to share enough technical detail and clearly identify the business benefits of these investments to help drive the tech agenda at board level.

  • Effectively manage IT resources.

IT departments have traditionally been responsible for managing operations, without the authority or resources to lead the way on evolving tech solutions. This can be a problem. So CIOs have prioritized technology and systems that deliver efficiencies and productivity. But prioritizing maintenance doesn't set you apart. And it leaves fewer resources for new technology solutions to contribute to the company's bottom line.

Network function virtualization services help CIOs free up resources around IT functions so they can focus on new technology solutions. The aim is to boost efficiency and flexibility. Managed services like these can help businesses optimize their supply chain and sales cycle to ride ever-changing global trends.

  • Focus on your people.

With operational IT functions in the hands of an external source, the CIO can use resources to reskill internal IT staff. The outside provider can also support the team with new technologies to help them offer customers new digital services that help the business stay fresh and compete. Developing such services would not be possible if the IT team was running over capacity.

As the same time, making sure non-IT colleagues are ready for a transformed business is crucial. It's no use changing the tech if you leave the people behind in the process.

Meeting the board's expectations in 2018 means facing up to disruptive digital newcomers and serving the tech-savvy. Claiming a seat at the executive table, reducing their IT footprint and reskilling their people, CIOs can align with the board.

Those who can step up as a business and IT leader have the best chance of success.

Martin Creighan is a managing director at AT&T Australia and New Zealand

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