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Why Tech Leaders Need Business Smarts

| April 7th, 2017 posted
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Samina Karim

Samina Karim

In the following post, D’Amore-McKim School of Business Associate Professor Samina Karim explains the importance of a strong business foundation for technology and innovation leaders in today’s evolving business world.

How is the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) changing in today’s evolving business world?

Traditionally, the CIO role served internally to help other parts of the organization achieve their goals; it was predominantly a passive function that was thought of synonymously with “information technology” or hardware “computer systems.” In our current business environment, a CIO is often the one setting the strategy for how and what data can and should be gathered, which is then interpreted and transformed into information. This information may either be used strategically by the firm or may even be a product or service sold by the firm. Today’s CIO enables his or her organization to be proactive about handling information.

There seems to be a trend right now of hiring more and more Chief Information Officers, as well as Chief Innovation Officers. Can you tell us more about this? 

Many industries are going through fundamental shifts in the products they sell (e.g. from hardware to services) or how they grow and interact with their customers (e.g. by using social media); the incumbents in these transforming industries often appoint a Chief Innovation Officer who is to identify and manage the transition of the organization from its legacy business to its more contemporary one. More often than not, in this day and age, the Innovation Officer needs to understand our continuing transition to 5G, the cloud, and connectivity through IoT—concepts that are very familiar to the Chief Information Officer role. Thus, it is not surprising that these two roles may overlap, and firms may only use one label within the top management team.

How can technologists help shape the future of a company, and why is business acumen vital to that?

Technologists are the ones that understand the backbones of the 21st century. Try getting anything innovative done without a technologist, and you’re a sitting duck. By questioning what information is most useful to the firm, technologists can narrow the choices amongst a vast sea of too much accessible information. The technologist has the responsibility to guide his or her firm to use technology to gather pertinent data on both the external competitive landscape as well as the internal firm organization, analyze this data to transform it into usable information, potentially sell as a product/service the information or the process by which such information was gathered, and to constantly be asking how to update or gather feedback on his/her systems to enable the firm to do more. The technologist is the bridge between old and new, inertial processes and new initiatives, incremental change and radical innovation. Business acumen is vital for the technologist to be able to effectively communicate his/her role, priorities and goals, and request for resources to those higher up. Technologists need to know how to translate to and from ‘technology speak’ and ‘management speak’.  Business acumen helps individuals present arguments using concepts and language that are common throughout the business community.

Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business recently formed a partnership with CIO to respond to evolving business needs through executive education. The resulting programs feature curriculum designed specifically to help tech leaders gain the business knowledge needed to propel companies forward during this time of technological business disruption.

You’re teaching in this new D’Amore-McKim executive education program. Can you speak briefly about what you plan to teach?

In the MBA Fundamentals for Tech Professionals program, I’ll teach the basic analysis that is done when examining a firm’s competitive strategy. This analysis includes an industry analysis of rivals to determine if the industry in question is “attractive” or not, a positioning analysis of the firm’s products/services as compared to others offered in the market, and a sustainability analysis to determine the biggest threats for a firm to maintain its profitability.

Learn more about this strategic partnership, which includes two new executive education programs for technology executives: MBA Fundamentals for Tech Professionals and Beyond the MBA Insights for Tech Executives, here.

 

Samina Karim is an associate professor in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation group at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. Her research focuses on corporate restructuring and design, acquisitions and alliances, and innovation through reconfiguration and redeployment of resources and activities. Karim serves as an associate editor for the Strategic Management Journal and as a senior editor for the Journal of Organization Design. Currently, she is the chair for the Competitive Strategy Interest Group of the Strategic Management Society. Prior to business academia, Karim worked at Hewlett-Packard as an electrical engineer in R&D.

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