CEOs owe it to company to be technically savvy

Semtech’s next-generation LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency (RF) technology (LoRa Technology) chipsets
Keeping current with technology, or even a step ahead, can help CEOs drive business.

CEOs wear many hats, often at the same time, and prioritizing is something they should be adept at. With all the changes going on in technology, this is one hat they should hold tightly to, given it serves as the backbone to operations. Whether it be hardware or software, innovations that can improve companies are coming out constantly, and CEOs must stay abreast of them, either through a solid IT department or through their own research.

“A CEO is the leader of the entire company and is responsible for the results of the company,” Doug Ringer, president of Doug Ringer Consulting, told FierceCEO. “Technology is typically a means to that end.”

To that extent:

  • The CEO should know enough about the applicable technology to ask great questions and determine if the answers are relevant and sufficiently accurate.
  • The CEO should view technology as a supporter of business strategy and business growth, and not as the end result. This applies to the technology contained in their products and the technology that runs their business (IT department).
  • If the CEO has a technical background, they should refrain from indulging their natural proclivity to "be technical" and instead use their expertise to ensure that the technology supports the corporate vision.

CEOs “need to be intimately involved with the technology side of their business,” said Michelle Moreno, managing director with Dresner Partners Investment Banking. 

Digital transformation “continues to take center stage as we improve on the way we interact with all constituencies, including clients, employees, the public, and others,” Moreno said. “The CEO needs to lead all aspects of a business with reliable functional heads in technology and other areas to see to the ‘nuts and bolts,’ enabling the CEO to assure that the company is functioning to the highest competitive level.”

A CEO “should be involved in the vision of what the technology should be doing, not the nuts and bolts or the technology build if there is a competent CTO or PM in place,” said Elie Y. Katz, president of National Retail Solutions, a subsidiary of IDT. “User experience and user interface is very important, so the vision of the CEO and the technology build have to be aligned.”

A CEO’s “level of involvement will largely depend on the stage and industry of the company,” said Matthew Mooney, partner with ON Partners. “Across all industries, the CEO will likely be closely involved with the technology in the early stages. As the company scales and the CEO role takes on a more strategic focus, he or she will be further removed from the day to day aspects of technology. While the CEO of a technology company will never fully separate from the underlying technology decisions, bigger strategic, governance and market issues will likely occupy the bulk of their time.”

In the end, “How involved should CEOs be with the technology side of their business? The answer is just enough to ensure the company is not risking its future due to technical missteps,” Mooney said.

“The CEO must step up, step out, and lead the digital transformation of their business,” said Tangoe CEO Bob Irwin. “Digital transformation is impacting every business. Mobile devices in the hands of front-line employees, artificial intelligence, data-fication, and robots are transforming the way businesses connect with their customers and the expectations customers have from businesses.”

CEOs “must remain actively involved in the technology side of their business since only a C-level executive can ensure that their technology group understands and is factoring into development requirements that come from external influences,” said David Giannetto, COO at Astea International. “Technologists often do not give proper prioritization to the needs of the sales process, marketing's requirements, or key items that influence buying behavior, and it is the CEO's role to ensure that these things are at the forefront of product development so that a company remains competitive and gives their sales team every opportunity to be successful.”