Why does it pay to have expert technology guidance at an executive level?

In the modern business eco-system, most if not all companies rely on technology in some form or another. In all likelihood most of these businesses could not survive without technology; yet they don’t have adequate technical representation at an executive level to assist from a strategic decision-making perspective.

Technology decisions are often left to managers who have the technical knowledge but lack the strategic insights that come with operating at an executive level and the experience to step back from their daily responsibilities. This also leaves many businesses in the position where there may be no safe guards in place to ensure suppliers are not ‘assisting’ in their own best interests.

Having a resource, be it permanent or otherwise, that can take a high-level view of the business, its strategy and the resources that are available to implement it and who can bring their experience, network and exposure to bear, can be the difference between success and failure in making key business decisions. Where a great IT strategy that sits on the shelf is useless, a bad IT strategy that gets executed can be even more harmful.

If the business chooses not to make use of such an individual, several questions need to be asked – do the balance of the executive have the time to focus on technology issues? Do they have the ability to put aside their normal roles and take a technical view? For instance, many financial managers are often given responsibility for technical functions and allowing a cost only perspective to outweigh strategic imperatives has been the ruin of many technology initiatives (and businesses). This is even more critical in a small business where the owner or small executive team are pulled in many directions and barely have the time to focus on their own pressing issues.

Where this becomes risky, especially in a South African context, is where governance, continuity, customer data and privacy is concerned - if due care is not given, for instance, to the protection of and access to customer data and the continuing operation of the business, executives can find themselves held personally and criminally liable.

Executive teams also need to consider whether they have the proper tools to make technology decisions. Do they know what the critical technology related and process issues are in their business that require attention? Do they have sufficient exposure to the technology industry to select the right vendors? Do they have the proper frameworks with which to evaluate the options they are presented with? Do they have experience and skills to effectively apply technology to increase productivity and efficiency? And do they have the time to keep with the pace of change of the technology solutions available to them?

Even if the answer to all of the questions posed is yes, it also has to be considered whether or not the balance of the executive team is 100% committed to the process both publically and privately and if support is demonstrated on an ongoing basis.

To add insult to injury, the need to managing change must also be considered as most, if not all, technology implementations bring change within the business and resistance to this change, if not perceived and managed properly, will cause the implementation to fail and will probably affect the overall health of the business, in extreme cases, terminally.

Having an executive focused on technology can ensure that a business very rarely, if ever, faces these challenges. A savvy, experienced, level-headed technology leader can make sure that a company is always placed to make the right technology decisions that support their company's strategy and then ensure that the technology delivers the benefits that are required.

Whether or not a business chooses to have a full-time resource focusing on technology is a factor of many things; the size of the company, the importance of technology as a whole and through individual lines of business, how critical specific technology initiatives are in the bigger picture and, of course, having the budget to support the individual and the team required to deliver.

The take-away, however, is that most if not all businesses should have an executive who is explicitly responsible for technology strategy, guidance and delivery. This individual could be the Chief Information or Technology Officer (CIO/CTO), the executive head of IT or the financial director assisted by an expert 3rd party offering services on a consulting basis. As long as the expertise is in place, the business should be well positioned to deliver on its strategic objectives.

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