CO - Techinnovation

Do we really need CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs?

Do we really need CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs?

Why CMOs and CTOs are all you need to succeed in today's world

This is my first article in a series of similar articles which I hope to publish into a book entitled "The Intelligent Enterprise: How to build a 21st century company"

Way back in 1954, Peter Drucker, the renowned management guru, wrote

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

The Practice of Management

Decades later, his words would prove to be truly prescient as the top companies that emerged from the information age were in fact marketing and innovation powerhouses, with Apple probably being the most iconic example. These companies now dominate the capital markets and have the largest valuations ever recorded in history. As of early 2020, there were several IT companies with valuations of $1 trillion or above, all of them paragons of Drucker's sage insight.

But then the question invariably arises - if all it really takes to succeed is marketing and innovation, why do we still pay so much attention to the CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and all the other C-suite positions that have nothing to do with marketing or innovation? Indeed, if we examine each of these positions one by one, we can easily see that they serve no purpose in today's world, and will become completely redundant in the near future as automation and AI start to dominate business decision-making. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

CEO

Starting off with the granddaddy of them all, the CEO is often the face of the company, the one who gets all the media attention and stares from devoted fans. But if we take a look at what the CEO is tasked with doing, it's basically just glorified strategy and executive decision-making, mostly within sales and marketing. Well, couldn't the CMO just do that, and of course already does! If a CEO makes any decisions outside of those domains, then of course the CTO would slot right in, particularly when it comes to innovation, where the CTO would excel way beyond the CEO.

Some would argue that the CEO actually aggregates the information from all the departments and then makes a decision, but then you have to ask yourself if that's even humanly possible. With the massive amounts of information at hand (Big Data), does anyone really think a single person can make effective decisions at that scale? We all know the answer to that one. In fact, if we take a look at the Agile movement, the entire goal was to replace the project manager, a single person, with a team of people jointly deciding how the work should be scheduled and completed. Why can't we do that in the C-suite, with the CMO and CTO jointly making those strategic decisions. And don't get me started on the board! From my experience, the board has no skin in the game, and if you don't really get your hands dirty, you have no business running a business.

CFO

If we take a look at the financial side of things, the reality is that all that stuff is in an accounting and ERP system already, and is purely mathematical in nature. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that financial processes can be easily automated, and with all the emergent deeptech such as deep learning becoming more commonplace, we can expect strategic financial decisions to be made by an AI, with far better predictive and prescriptive models than any human could come up with given the amount of data at hand. We already have fraud detection systems in place doing the bulk of the financial monitoring we need, and these systems will only continue to improve over time. Again, the reality is that finance and accounting are completely automatable, and there is absolutely no need for a CFO, at least from my perspective. In fact, in my experience, CFOs are more a liability than anything else, with many being completely digitally illiterate (see below), thus exposing the company to cyberattacks and the like.

CIO

Finally, we come to the CIO, the techie often responsible for maintaining production systems and brownfield/legacy apps. Well, here's another redundant position due to DevOps. The reality is that as developers and system admins work closer together than ever before, and as a lot of these systems are being migrated to the cloud, even the venerable AS400, we don't need somebody just trying to aggregate all that together. With all this virtualization/containerization taking place, the job of maintenance falls on the DevOps team. Developers can interact directly to solve production and deployment issues, reducing gridlock and bureaucracy. And with DevXOps (DevSecOps, etc) becoming the trend, we can even see that the CISO and other security executives will become redundant in no time as well. In fact, having infrastructure, deployment, testing, performance, governance, quality, and security as code, all versioned properly and executable, is the future of software development, and anyone who hasn't figured that out by now hasn't been paying attention. Indeed, by literally codifying it, we can standardize practices across industries, thus ensuring that all companies benefit from best practices, no matter how small or big. And the beauty is that companies of different sizes and shapes could download the templates they need to succeed, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach that dominates the IT world today.

Well, I hope I've convinced some of you that these positions are no longer necessary. For those holdouts out there, I invite you to wait a few years and see how CMOs and CTOs continue to grow in prominence ????. I've outlined 3 core competencies that companies will need for the next few decades, and CMO's and CTO's will be leading that charge:

  1. Human literacy - understanding behavioral psychology and economics, empathy, team formation and cohesion, recruitment/retention, etc. We will use KCI's (Key Caring Indicators) to measure our success in this dimension of our business. I'll be discussing KCI's in my next article, so watch out for it!
  2. Data literacy - We already are bombarded with this stuff daily, given the rise of Data Science and IR4. Typically, we hand off the responsibilities of managing our data infrastructure to a CDO (Chief Data Officer), but the reality is that this would fall under DevOps (DataOps to be more precise), so the CDO would go the way of the dodo as well. So what does this mean? Well, it means that both the CMO and CTO would have to become data literate, but specializing in different aspects of the business as noted (marketing and innovation). The CMO would oversee the marketing analytics side of the business, and the CTO would oversee the technical analytics side of the business (uptime, performance, latency - APM basically). So, math and statistics, operations management, and machine learning would have to be second nature to both the CMO and CTO, and they would just add it to their repertoire. BTW, this type of literacy subsumes mathematical numeracy.
  3. Digital/Technical literacy - Being technically/digitally literate is the most important skill of the 21st century, IMHO. In my storied 20+ year career in IT, I've seen too many f**ckups due to a lack of this type of literacy. While tooling no doubt plays a big role here, having a deep grounding in what technology really is and how to properly automate and standardize processes is far more important. Tools change, and technologies evolve, but a fundamental understanding of IT and information theory in general is necessary to adopt the right technologies for your business, and more importantly, to strategically grow it. 
  • Tarun Sukhani
    Tarun Sukhani
    CTO | Abundent Sdn Bhd

    Tarun Sukhani is a software industry veteran and an internationally sought after speaker/presenter on modern software development topics such as Agile, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Big Data, Data Science, and AI/Machine Learning/Deep Learning. With more than 20 years of experience, he has been a board member, senior executive, architect, and developer across a range of verticals throughout his career. Tarun has also been involved in entrepreneurship and academia, founding 4 companies in Malaysia and lecturing at a number of local and international universities. Tarun currently heads up Abundent, a Digital Transformation and Big Data Analytics company based in Kuala Lumpur with branch offices in Singapore, Indonesia, and the US.

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