No other function within a corporate environment has been ring-fenced as much as technology. Initially given to IT geeks, the emergent roles of CTO and CIO are primarily internal process-facing. CDO - Chief Digital Officer - appointments are on the rise, but it is enough to have a single digital expert at c-level? Experts are unanimous: the vast majority of senior executives in organizations do not have enough knowledge of the digital environment - and they need to.
Digital media expert David Mathison, a New York Times best-selling author of 'Be The Media' and Managing Director of Digital Media at IIC Partners' New York City member firm Chadick Ellig, says it will become increasingly difficult for those behind, to catch-up and stay on top.
"A lack of digital expertise at the top is already costing leaders their jobs - the head of a prominent publication was fired because they allegedly, in part, 'didn't get digital'. The futures of venerable companies are at stake. Take Newsweek. It was acquired in the summer of 2010 for a dollar, plus liabilities, by The Daily Beast.
"And it's not just publishing - digital, social, and mobile - are effecting every industry. Everything is being re-imagined and disrupted.
"The long-term solution is to train a CEO to understand digital technology, mobile platforms and social media. But companies in hyper-competitive industries don't have the luxury of a long-term horizon.
"To say you don't like social, or mobile, or don't want to use say Twitter or Linkedin, is missing the point. This digital disruption is not going to go away. Your customers are using these platforms - so why aren't you? These tools put power in the hands of people. It helped change the government of Egypt. Your PR and media relations teams no longer control the conversation about your company - your customers do. This is a massive power shift.
"Leaders having the most problems adapting to this shift are those who didn't grow up with the internet, or have been in industries that were immune to the changes up to now. They almost look down on new media, or see it as a fad that's beneath them, something they don't need to learn."
David concedes that can be difficult for leaders in some firms to find meaningful ways to deliver value through social media: "CEOs can't be tweeting results before the shareholders' meeting. What can a CEO say that will be of real interest on a tweet?"
"Or many CEOs of larger companies are not on Linkedin, for example, because they don't want to be harassed by sales people or stalked by disgruntled former employees. But there are ways of managing this, and making the best use of the platform.
"I know CEOs who don't even use a smart phone. It's one thing to delegate the production of a PowerPoint presentation, although being able to make last minute changes and know how to set it up is important. But if you don't understand that technology and digital advances are going to disrupt your business, unless you take control and manage these developments to transform your business, you and your company are in big trouble."
David's Top Tip: "I'd advise executives to download some apps related to their industry - that should drive some ideas. Also, set Google alerts on your company and your competition - find out about what customers, partners, shareholders, and employees saying about your company in real time."
Brussels-based networking and Linkedin expert Jan Vermeiren, and author of 'How to REALLY Use Linkedin', recommends people put aside their instinctive prejudices, forget about the new digital tools and focus on the business goals.
"Then indentify the best tools to reach those goals," says Jan.
Company leaders who are used to being in control need to understand the digital environment will control them unless they participate in some shape or form, he says.
"For example, you cannot not be on Linkedin - you have to be there. If you have a Linkedin profile that is very basic or non-existent people will wonder why. They will have questions, about you, about your company. Prospective employees will wonder what type of company you are without a Linkedin profile.
"There is a huge, huge knowledge gap between those who know and those who don't, especially in the last three to four years. Top people are being left behind and many do not even realise it. It's frightening."
Jan's Top Tip: "First, get on Linkedin. Linkedin is about branding - personal branding, company branding. Two things I advise are get your career path on your personal profile and secondly add PowerPoint presentations of current projects into your company profile to show how innovative your company is. And build 'know, like and trust' factors into the profiles. After you have established your (passive) presence, start using it as an active and proactive tool, just like you don't leave your car parked in the driveway, but use it to reach your physical destination."
You can download a free copy of Jan's book here: www.how-to-really-use-linkedin.com
Sean Darwish has served as a technology consultant to various Fortune 500 companies, as CTO and VP of Marketing for several technology start-ups, and is currently CMO - Chief Monetization Officer - at Inteveo, which specialises in the emerging area of monetization and interactive video advertising online.
"I don't see a drive to innovate and educate among top technology teams. Companies have become somewhat too complacent. I think that the focus on IT and digital existence has been an enemy to us as executives. It has prevented us from expanding our knowledge in other crucial areas of technology.
"CEOs don't have to become rocket scientists. The reality of it is you do not have to understand how a car engine works to learn how to drive.
"It's hard for many senior executives who have 'made it' to find themselves in the position to start a whole new learning curve. But how can you possibly sit in a board room and discuss how to improve routes to market if you can't see them all? How can executives drive innovation unless they educate themselves? If your company is not going to learn, it's not going to grow."
How does a leader know when they may have digital illiteracy?
"Do you rely on others for simple technical tasks? Do you have to wait on your secretary to put together a PowerPoint presentation, to print something out for you?
"If you ask my partners and executives the most frustrating thing I am always upset about is that I don't find enough time to educate myself more on developing technologies. And I do consider myself a digital expert!
"Could you name a business today that would not benefit from technology? It's competition, innit? [sic]. I keep hearing firms not up-to-speed in today's digital advancements saying that 'sales are not what they used to be'. They blame it on one thing - the economy. I hate that. We know the economic situation is bad everywhere, but we have to stop blaming it all on the economy and start improving ourselves and our knowledge, our business' intellectual property, its infrastructure, new marketing."
Sean's Top Tip: "You have to take the initiative. First, ask yourself, 'What do I need to know?'. Training is important but you don't have to go back to college - the internet is filled with a lot of useful information and most if it is free. Second, partner with the right people. You will never know it all but if you can surround yourself with the right professionals then you can fill the gap. Third, invest in technology that will help you improve your business."