There’s A New Route To The CEO Seat—Through IT

Louis Summe, CEO of LiveVox, explains why CIOs are well positioned to take the reins—and how they can get there.

Former IT leader Louis Summe is now co-founder and CEO of LiveVox Holdings, a San Francisco-based provider of contact center solutions, and he expects many CIOs will be following in his professional footsteps in the coming years.

Summe spoke with StrategicCIO360 about why information chiefs are taking the top position at companies, how they can prepare themselves for the challenge and what it takes to keep top talent today.

In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of CEOs with technology backgrounds—like yourself. Why do you think that is? What advantages does a CEO with a technology background bring to a business? 

Balancing the strategic and operational sides of a business will always be top priorities for the CEO, but the ability to distinguish signal from noise, synthesize important technical information, and understand how technology influences the top and bottom lines is more critical than ever.

These are core skills that are commonly seen in those with technology backgrounds. They make it easier for CEOs to build consensus and navigate common organizational challenges, including digital transformation and automation imperatives. Organizations are also well-served by CEOs who can clearly communicate their vision, priorities and rationale to other executives and investors in a simplified fashion. 

Do you think this will pave the way for more CIOs to become candidates for CEO positions? What advice do you have for CIOs with CEO aspirations? 

I do. I think we will start to see more well-rounded CIOs and CTOs advance into the CEO role. Whereas we initially saw CFOs and COOs rise to the position, we have seen CMOs make that transition more frequently in recent years—like JPMorgan’s Kristin Lemkau and Wisdom Gaming’s Steve LaCroix. I think CIOs and CTOs will be next. In particular, as we continue to shift to a digital workplace, tech-minded executives will be in even greater demand—and CIOs and CTOs will be in position to lead organizations.

For those with aspirations to become CEOs, I would say surround yourself with the right people and trust them to do what they were hired for. Never be afraid to ask them the hard questions and soak up as much knowledge from them as you can.

To be a successful CEO, you need to understand each aspect of the business as best you can, from the sales organization to marketing and product. That isn’t to say you need to be an expert on each aspect of the business, however. Over time, you’ll observe that in the course of normal operations you’ve become a more empathetic, well-rounded leader. 

Customer experience is a term and consideration that has begun to influence the business decisions of nearly every organization as our society has increasingly shifted to digital. Why is customer experience so important today and what are some emerging trends and technologies that CIOs and tech executives should be aware of to ensure a positive customer experience? 

The rapid increase in digital transformation is one of the key drivers behind the influence customer experience has on organizations today. With ecommerce and digital engagement on the rise, organizations need to make sure their customers have a positive experience on any of the communications channels available to them. Another consideration behind the emphasis on CX is increasing competition. More choices mean that consumers are more likely to change their loyalties than ever before after a bad customer experience. 

One of the technologies that makes its way into every conversation is artificial intelligence. While there are many practical applications of the technology delivering business value today, like chatbots, virtual assistants and ML applications, we encourage our customers, up front, to choose their use cases, vendors, implementations and future maintenance commitments wisely.

Another trend that’s been prevalent within the lens of CX is data security. As consumers have come to grips with the fact that their data is being collected and used to enhance their online experiences, they expect their data to be secure. CIOs and executives at all levels need to ensure they have the right guardrails and solutions in place to protect their customers or risk losing them and significantly more after a data breach. 

Another top concern for executives has been employee retention and acquiring talent since the Great Resignation, as some have called it. How can CIOs and IT teams work hand-in-hand with HR teams and other executives to ensure they are set up for success on the talent front?

As I referenced earlier, digital transformation has played a large part in the shifts we are seeing in today’s organizations and workplaces. No matter the size of the company, providing employees with the tools to do their jobs more efficiently and successfully is essential.

Most executives today understand the importance of the customer experience, CX, but one of the forgotten factors of CX is the employee experience. When your employees are happy and have positive experiences at work on a regular basis, whether that is in the office or at home, they are more likely to provide a positive experience for the customer. 

Whether you are a B2B or B2C organization, employee and customer experience is important. CIOs and IT teams should work with HR and talent acquisition teams to consider if current and potential employees should have access to the latest technologies and applications to do their jobs. While salary and benefits will always remain key factors in an employee’s decision to join and stay, organizations that are able to provide the best relevant hardware, software and applications to do the job will have an edge over those who don’t.

Additionally, remote and hybrid work has provided another incentive for prospective and current employees. Without assistance and insights from CIO and IT teams, however, organizations can’t fully support an efficient remote workforce and top-tier talent will look elsewhere.

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