I can’t help but feel sympathy for a CEO. There are so many competing functions within an organisation all shouting out for bigger budgets, demanding priority, and constantly niggling away to have their reporting line direct to the CEO.

From many conversations with CEOs and others in the C-suite, it’s clear that two overarching priorities must always be confronted head-on by the CEO: Talent and tech.

Talent and Tech – Inextricable dovetailed elements of any organisation aspiring to become successful and to stay successful.  To ignore talent and tech is to stare directly into the abyss of failure.

Like you, I’ve seen many companies improve their financial performance and competitive position once their CEO prioritised the strengthening of the technology function and aligned technology capability tightly with business strategy.

To avoid the abyss of failure, technology must be a high priority in every business

Of course, Tech can’t be prioritised without talent. The acquisition, retention, education and remuneration of talent is a vital part of discussions between the CEO, HR and CIO which ripples out to include every function in the organisation.  However, for the purpose of this insight I will put talent to one side (without diminishing its crucial role in the organisation) and focus on what CEOs have been telling me is their tech agenda.

Not presented in any order, these agenda items represent the thinking of CEOs who are positioning their organisations to thrive in an ever increasingly digitally savvy economy.

The Agenda

Leadership Moves – The CIO must be involved in strategic discussions, where they can influence the thinking on how the organisation can best use technology. This move is key to helping the CIO to learn and understand the various organisational functions.

Organisation Culture – Extremely challenging but essential. The culture of the organisation must position tech as its backbone and compel all levels of the leadership and staff to constantly explore how to deploy tech within their function for maximum impact and then upskill accordingly.

Hand in hand with this will be the question of how to sustain organisational culture where some or most of your team is now working from home or have intermittent or alternating days in the office as a consequence of the pandemic.

Focusing Tech Budgets – With the tech wish list always being bigger than the actual budget and in the face of rapidly changing tech determining what should be funded for operational benefits and what should be funded for opportunistic market advantage.

Insource vs Outsource – Outsourcing has always been deployed as a way of reducing IT overheads. However, outsourcing seldomly produces the product and service innovation needed to stay ahead. Having the right people within the organisation together with enough resources helps to drive innovation, development and at a pace that can deliver economical payback palatable to stakeholders. Finding the balance is the challenge.

Data Data Data – This is the key to understanding an organisation’s performance and more importantly the customer. Increasingly CEOs are realising benefits by unlocking value embedded in their customers, staff and geographies through effective analysis of data that is already in their systems.

Security – If you have the data you need to protect the data. This is about more than maintaining competitive advantage. The obligation to comply with multiple jurisdictional regulation carries a financial burden if done and a far greater financial burden if not done.  The punitive examples have been made and CEOs are taking note.

Policy and Protocol – In response to the pandemic CEO’s need to have on their agenda the updating and enforcement policies, guidelines, protocols and contracts (including employment contracts) to reflect the new business as usual.  Teams working from home means that organisations need to place far more trust in the employee’s hardware, (to some extent) software, security and behaviours which my put at risk the organisation’s IP, data, strategy, relationships and brand to name the obvious.

Increasingly I see CEOs who understand that the only way technology can be deeply and comprehensively integrated into the whole of the organisation is to use their position to influence, remove roadblocks and to involve the CIO at the strategy table.

The Reward

The reward is fourfold:

One – A foundation for operational excellence with agility to respond to market changes.

Two – The realisation of value (knowledge, loyalty & revenue) by having and utilising the improved understanding of the customer

Three – Ensuring that the organisation is future ready.

Four – The organisation is responding optimally to the ‘new business as usual’.


Richard Sterling is the Managing Director of AltoPartners Australia. He has over twenty-five years of executive search experience securing leaders at board and C-suite level for organisations in Australia and internationally. His tech experience includes Defence, Industry, Resources and Professional and Business Services.

Richard is a Fellow of the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management and sits on their executive review panel for expert certification.