Tomorrow’s C-suite for today’s business challenges by Anne Watson

Specialist expertise has never been more valuable at executive level. The business landscape is becoming increasingly complex – frequent political and economic curveballs, our thirst for instant information and the continuing march of technology has created a challenging environment for companies large and small, with the pressure evident in the boardroom.

Issues such as the recent cyber security breaches affected organisations across the world and left business leaders perplexed at to what they could do proactively address challenges like this which have previously been unforeseen.

The danger for any management team in this climate is focusing a disproportionate amount of effort on tackling ‘here-and-now’ challenges, and neglecting to future-proof the business.

Executives must consider how to manage new challenges effectively, ensuring that due attention can be spent looking to the future. To do this, management teams are increasingly reassessing the expertise within their C-suite. Are their people in possession of the skills needed to tackle new and emerging challenges? Is undue time being spent on issues that perhaps could be better handled, much more quickly, by someone with specialist expertise?

In Touch Networks is a group of professional networks for senior executives – one of the fastest growing tech companies in the UK, it has changed how non-executive directors are recruited.

Anne Watson, COO of In Touch Networks, says recent discussions with senior management teams and non-executive directors have highlighted a shift taking place, with more of a focus on specific skills. As a result, we are likely to see the introduction of new C-suite roles requiring specialist expertise, and also the recruitment of non-executive directors (NEDs) based on such skills rather than focusing on previous ‘big ticket’ roles.

Anne highlights some of the new C-suite roles we could see in the boardroom:

Chief Customer Officer (CCO)

There is a thirst for instant information and the proliferation of social media has given consumers huge power; C-suite executives are acutely aware of customers’ ability to influence the perception of their brand, and their power to create chaos, as evidenced during the recent US Airlines debacle. With multiple marketing avenues and ‘touchpoints’ on the average brand’s customer journey, smart businesses will begin to open their eyes to the benefits of a C-suite customer champion.

Chief Automation Officers (CAO)

At SXSW, Microsoft’s Kate Crawford spoke about AI, saying “We have to make artificial intelligence systems more transparent and accountable.” Her thoughts echo the concerns of many executives who recognise the ability of AI to revolutionise their business, but are wary of its potential to create unforeseen challenges. As the technology continues to develop, driven by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon and others, we are likely to see the introduction of specialist AI experts to the Boardroom table.

Chief Freelance Relationships Officer (CFRO)

Beyond the ‘gig economy’ and its intricacies, there is an important change taking place with the growth in self-employment. It’s a change that has seen huge benefits to businesses who have embraced this new, more flexible way of working, relying on a network of talented, experienced freelancers. The trend is predicted to increase, with co-working spaces popping up in cities across the country to keep pace with demand. However, executives are mindful of the fact that much of their talent lies outside the business, and are acutely aware of the importance of keeping freelance talent happy. As the preference for self-employment gathers pace, we are likely to see the introduction of the CFRO into the C-suites of larger companies, tasked with ensuring their business retains top talent.

Chief Cyber Security Officer (CSSO)

Cyber security is not a new issue, but is certainly a growing one. Yet, despite 75 per cent of UK businesses admitting that cyber-security is a priority for their senior management, only 3 per cent employ a specialist cyber security officer, with responsibility instead given to either the CEO or CFO. Furthermore, just under half of UK businesses identified at least one cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months, yet only 11 per cent have a cyber security incident management strategy in place. New York recently introduced cyber security accountability for Wall Street executives; we can expect the UK to follow suit, with the more commonplace introduction of the CSSO at board-level.

Chief Futurist Officer (CFUO)

We have long been in awe of the futurist, their ability to study the future and make predictions based on mathematical analysis and assessment of future trends. With continuing political and socio-economic developments and the advancement of technology, we will see companies following in the footsteps of Google, Wired and Cisco, appointing dedicated Futurists, joining the C-suite to provide powerful advice and counsel to senior management teams.

Written by Anne Watson, COO at In Touch Networks