The evolving C-suite

The C-suite will need to expand to include individuals equipped with specialist expertise

The C-suite as we know it is evolving. The ‘traditional’ board is ill-equipped to deal with today’s emerging challenges, fuelled by unprecedented socioeconomic and political headwinds that aren’t expected to still anytime soon. Executive roles no longer encompass a neat list of responsibilities, but are much more fluid.

While a degree of flexibility is to be expected in any role, emerging technology has given a rise to new challenges – such as cyber crime and IT security – which, for the executives assigned responsibility for them at board level, is a role in itself. With several concerns becoming increasingly prevalent in board discussions, management teams are beginning to consider the merit of expanding their C-suite with individuals equipped with the specialist expertise to tackle such issues.

Historically, particularly where non-executive directors are concerned, individuals are often appointed on the basis of their experience (in the broadest sense) within a particular sector, and often following past high-profile roles. However, in the face of rapid technological developments, the rise of an empowered consumerism, and the spotlight on ethics and governance, a specific skillset is the order of the day. The coming years are likely to see a rise in popularity of several new C-suite roles.

The chief cyber security officer (CCSO) will, I believe, be one of the first additions to the future C-suite. Recent weeks have seen crippling ransomware attacks on the NHS, and we’ve all seen the newspaper articles each time data and banking information is stolen. Management teams are more open than ever to the risk of an attack or data breach and duly appreciate the benefit of an expert adviser within the C-suite.

Artificial intelligence has been a bit of a buzzword for some time now, but those invested in the technology and the possibilities it offers will appreciate its capability to kick-start a ‘new’ industrial revolution. The introduction of chief automation officer (CAO) at board level will ensure that businesses are ready to tackle AI, come what may.

Technology has been an incredible disrupter in recent years, the advent of social media being one of the most momentous developments this century. But along with social media and its many benefits came the rise of a new sort of consumerism; a more empowered consumerism with the ability to damage a brand with the swipe of a screen. Hand in hand with this comes the surge in online retail, creating a hugely complex customer journey with many touchpoints taking place during each interaction with a brand. We’re likely to see the creation of a new role within the C-suite of chief customer officer (COO), a consumer champion responsible for protecting the brand and maintaining its loyal customer base.

This new empowerment isn’t restricted to consumer behaviour, but has extended into working patterns, played out in the rise of the gig economy and the UK’s growing freelance workforce – both an opportunity and a challenge for businesses. With an increasing focus on flexible and remote working and a skilled workforce seeking both career success and some semblance of a work/life balance, many of the UK’s most talented individuals are taking the leap. But when a company’s best talent is external it’s a risk to be managed carefully. With self-employment figures continuing to increase we’re likely to see a variant of a chief freelance relationships officer (CFRO) taking a seat at the boardroom table, their sole purpose being to secure and retain freelance talent.

I, for one, will be watching the development of these new roles with interest.

Anne Watson is COO of In Touch Networks, a group of professional networks for senior executives