Many things are hybrid these days, including clouds and cars. Now, we are seeing the rise of the hybrid business leader, who has advanced technology understanding, as well as strong business-building skills. They may come from technical ranks, but also may come from the business side, with a need to develop more advanced technology skills.
That’s the word from Thomas Erl, author of numerous business technology books, and CEO of Arcitura Education, which provides technology skills training to thousands of professionals across the globe. “Leaders and managers need to understand technology, and how it not only relates to automating their systems, but how it relates to their global digital presence. Also, they need a firm grasp of how their competitors and others in their markets are utilizing technology.”
At the same time, technologists need to up their business acumen. There is a convergence taking place between the required skillsets of technologists and businesspeople, Erl points out. “Technologists have to understand the business, and business leaders have to understand the technology.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Erl, who just co-authored A Field Guide to Digital Transformation, which provides a roadmap for both executives and technologists seeking leadership roles in their company’s efforts.
To some degree, he explains, it’s probably more urgent for business professionals to up their technology game than it is for technology professionals to learn to lead their businesses. “Some understand the business, while some are heads-down, but they have to care more. They’ll always be tech focused, and they’ll learn about whatever they need to about what it is they’re automating. For them to understand the business is usually easier and perhaps less critical than for the executives to understand the technology. It’s harder, and its more critical for the business side to understand technology, so they don’t get caught off guard.”
Technology awareness and proficiency is now part of the job of every executive, Erl points out. “If you don’t have the insights, as a CEO, CTO or vice president, then you can’t really effectively make strategic decisions anymore. In the past, they’ve relied on others to just give them reports. Now, as an established manager, you have to roll up your sleeves and bite the bullet and get into a level of understanding of technology that you may be uncomfortable with.”
This convergence is essential, as there are many organizations that simply don’t yet fully recognize they are technology businesses. “Some organizations over the next few years will be in for a rude awakening if they continue along a path based on traditional approaches,” Erl warns. “It’s faster now for others to take leaps and bounds ahead of competitors than before, because you can build behind-the-scenes and roll out greater and stronger lines of business. You can just be disruptive and muscle your way into new markets. And you can really surprise other organizations with revelations with regards to what you’ve been building and more so than ever before.”
At the same time, being a digitally driven business requires having and supporting the right skills, both for technologists and business leaders. “It’s really an open field right now,’ says Erl. “But digital transformation needs to be sustained. With digital transformation, you can roll things out, and you can promise the world, but you have to be able to sustain that for it to be truly successful. That comes down to how the digital transformation is carried out within the organization.”
The ability to sustain digital transformation “requires a different culture or mindset to go along with leveraging the technology innovations that introduce new forms of automation that introduce new forms of decision-making, and new forms of utilizing data intelligence,” Erl says. “The whole aspect of now having very comprehensive data and insightful intelligence available to us is extremely powerful, but it is something that needs to be understood in order for it to be fully leveraged. If you don’t understand what it is you’re being given insights for, if you don’t understand how to use it, and, most importantly, if your IT teams don’t understand how to properly generate data intelligence that is of relevance to your organization, that effort can take you down the wrong path altogether.”
While executives and managers don’t need to learn programming with Python, they “need more than a conceptual level of understanding,” Erl explains. “You need to understand what your systems do in relation to your digital presence, and how they’re being used by other organizations and competitors. Have they leveraged blockchain to secure data? Are they utilizing cloud computing in such a way that has made them more efficient or cost effective?”
A successful leader “need a foundational level of understanding to really comprehend what is happening in the outside world, and to best determine what should happen in the world that they’re responsible for.”