How Long Until We Begin to See a ‘Floating C-Suite’?

In a digital economy, the future role of CEO and CTO will be more closely intertwined as we see an increasing synergy between technology and business growth.

According to Ben Taylor, CTO of Rainbird and adviser to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI, the future CTO will be a visionary and a technology strategist using technology to optimise everything from business processes to risk management and and guide smarter strategic decisions.

Every company is becoming a technology company and, just as CTOs will need to speak business lingo, CEOs will need to be equally at ease with ‘geek speak’ as they are talking to shareholders.

Techies will no longer be siloed away in the IT department or relegated to a single seat on the board but will instead be the bedrock of the business. Technical skills will be the necessary foundation for any successful CEO and an entrepreneurial background and business knowledge will be an essential foundation for any CTO or CISO. Over time, we could see a ‘floating’ board in which members seamlessly switch between these roles.

This is exemplified by the story of our own board at Rainbird. I have always been both an engineer at heart and an entrepreneur. The combination of the two went back to my childhood when I wrote and sold a piece of software aged just 14 and later supplemented my income as a university student by running a web design house.

Having later worked as an Adobe computer scientist and developed award-winning AI solutions for the automotive insurance industry, I then founded my own AI company, Rainbird. Based on a computer programme written in my back garden, it has now become the basis for an AI platform used by Big Four accountancy giants, banks and law firms for everything from fraud prevention to tax auditing. The combination of my technical knowhow and entrepreneurial background enabled me to create a timely technology that met a genuine business need and launched right at the start of the corporate AI hype curve.

The story of our changing board roles exemplifies the new hybrid technologist-entrepreneur that will come to define the C-suite of the future. Having started out as a technical CEO, I have now switched roles to become CTO.

The story of our changing board roles exemplifies the new hybrid technologist-entrepreneur that will come to define the C-suite of the future.

Our new CEO also comes from a background combining technology expertise and business leadership with over 20 years of experience building technology companies and providing technology, growth and exit support to early-stage and established businesses. This is a precursor for a digital economy in which the CTO will increasingly need to align technology to business and the CEO must embrace technology, creating a seamless synchronicity between the two. The future CTO will be less of a ‘hands-on’ technical expert and more of an ‘enabler’ of technical teams just as the CEO is an enabler of business functions.

Not only will we see business and technical roles increasingly intertwined, we could see shared or even ‘rotating seats’ at the heart of the future board. This will create dynamic, adaptable enterprises where CEOs lead the organisation with business strategy at its core and CTOs navigate the challenges of scaling a platform business with the technical knowhow to achieve it. It will be crucial to helping organisations adapt to a disruptive business environment in a constant state of flux. We see evidence of this everywhere, from Huawei rotating the role of its CEO every six months to the co-founders of UK fintech start-up Transferwise switching CEO roles. The two roles can also switch to accommodate different stages of business growth. At the early stages, a business may need a more technical CEO, while at later stages it may need someone with more experience scaling businesses at speed.

This trend is driven by the growing synergy between technology and business growth which is creating a need for more closely conjoined and interchangeable business and tech leadership functions. For example, cyber security has moved from a peripheral IT function to a core plank of modern corporate risk management and a key brand differentiator. Similarly, AI has shifted from a subset of customer service to a central driver of business growth. As technology moves from the IT department to the driving seat of the business, technology personnel must do the same.

As technology and business become intertwined, the C-suite of the future will be a hybrid of technologist and executive roles able to swap seamlessly between the two to suit the changing needs of the business.

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