The Boardroom of the Future

While it was once possible for a company to achieve outstanding results without a focus on technology, this is certainly no longer the case. Think of which types of organisations dominated the business landscape ten years ago – automotive, transport, and retail. Now think about which stand out in today’s market – those that leverage technology for a competitive edge, like Apple, Google, and Amazon.

That said, simply implementing the latest and greatest technology isn’t enough to drive success. To gain a real competitive advantage, organisations need to creatively and strategically integrate new tools with existing workflows to modernise processes, empower employees, and take productivity to the next level. With UK productivity in an undeniable slump, likely due to a slowdown in tech investments amidst political anxiety, it’s crucial for industry leaders to renew their focus on digital transformation to prevent their business from lagging.

Board-level directors have a crucial role to play in bolstering digital transformation – realising that next-generation corporate vision and strategy is now intertwined with technological innovation, driven by disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. In addition, new regulations, complex geopolitical dynamics, and an ever-morphing cyber threatscape demand the agility and adaptability that comes with a digitally-powered business, as well as having people at the top who possess the skills and gravitas to drive change. It’s no surprise then that the nature of every role on the board of directors is significantly evolving.

New world, new seats at the table

With new technologies emerging and IT infrastructure becoming ever-more complex, new kinds of leaders are needed to drive business growth.

Between the emergence of regulations such as the GDPR and the staggering amount of data at hand (250 billion terabytes created per day), many companies are appointing Chief Data Officers (CDOs) who are charged with managing data strategy, governance, and effective yet ethical data utilisation. And, as industries start to recognise the tremendous, inherent value of data, CDOs are responsible for efficiently managing and leveraging these treasure troves for competitive advantage.

At the beginning of last year, Gartner reported a 100-fold increase of CDOs over the past decade. While the actual remit of these new data leaders is still subject to interpretation, and it varies depending on the company and individual, the advantages are undeniable: KPMG research shows that businesses that have a CDO are twice as likely to have a clear digital strategy, which is essential to succeed in today’s commercial landscape. Given prominence and weighty responsibilities that come with their roles, CDOs are increasingly taking on board seats.

The rise of new chiefs as AI and automation reach critical mass

The last few years have been dominated by conversations about AI and automation, despite cautionary tales of an “AI winter.” As companies strive to reach new levels of agility and efficiency, it will become more and more difficult to find a job or internal process that isn’t augmented by these transformative technologies.

AI’s core role in the digital workplace will greatly impact organisational structures and job functions – so much so that companies may decide to hire Chief Artificial Intelligence Officers (CAIOs) to guide successful implementation and address challenges, from developing the deep IT infrastructure that AI demands to navigating the ethical dilemmas. While the debate about whether companies really need a CAIO is still open, the opinion that they do need someone to lead on AI activities is unanimous – someone with a thorough understanding of the challenges that AI can solve and the significant business improvements it can unlock.

Automation is another critical technology in the race to keep pace with digital change.

Today, AI is largely being used for applications like personalised advertising, automated customer service, and detecting fraudulent activity on company networks. From an IT perspective, AI also has the capacity to streamline IT operations, identify process improvements, and resolve performance issues. The potential for future applications goes well beyond these initial use cases and will offer organisations tremendous opportunities for innovation if they can successfully navigate the challenges.

Automation is another critical technology in the race to keep pace with digital change. Having already streamlined millions of processes and revolutionised workers’ day-to-day tasks, automation is set to continue transforming businesses in this new decade. The levels of efficiency, productivity, and agility it can help achieve are staggering. However, Forrester recently found that one in four data and analytics decisionmakers feel their firms lack an overall strategy for automation. Enter the Chief Automation Officer (CAO) who oversees the automatisation of the company as a whole to ensure that new processes are created with automation in mind, rather than as an afterthought.

The boardroom is changing immensely and will continue to do so. It has been fascinating to watch the Chief Information Officer (CIO) evolve from a strictly technical leader to a commercially-savvy board member tasked with ensuring technological innovation is a core element of business strategy. It’s time for the board to welcome more specialised C-Suite executives to work alongside the CIO, make the most of new technologies, distinguish fleeting trends from indispensable tools, and propel organisations into the future.


Vijay Kurkal is the CEO of Resolve – an IT automation and orchestration platform, powering more than a million automations every day.

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