Professional technologists are being increasingly appointed to the senior ranks of major firms, according to new research from funds transaction network Calastone.

In a report published on 18 April, the company points out that almost 35% of FTSE 100 firms have a technologist in their executive leadership teams – up from 24.5% 2016. Similarly, figures from the FTSE 250 show an increase in high-ranked technologists from 18.6% in 2016 to 23.1% this year.

According to the report – which urges the funds industry to raise its technological game – the appointments have stemmed from leaders’ ambitions to transform and modernise their systems: efforts that are running the gamut of industry sectors.

Calastone chief innovation officer Campbell Brierley says: “Organisations worldwide face the difficult challenge of having to align legacy systems to meet new, more sophisticated demands from industry and customers. The role of the technologist has, as such, become increasingly pivotal in solving these problems – whether that be through replacing old systems, or using cutting-edge, innovative technology to streamline operational efficiencies and create a seamless user experience.”

While Brierley predicts that the upward trend of technologist representation in leadership roles will continue, he notes: “it is critical firms keep cementing their understanding of technology at a company-wide, cultural level, and bring technological experience and skills into leadership teams. A strong comprehension of technology and its implications will be a business-critical strategic tool, and help firms ensure their competitiveness.”

So how can leaders ensure that the technologists they hire are the right ones for their firms – and how can they embed technology into their organisations’ cultures?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “I was recently on a panel with Qinetiq discussing the type of leadership that firms required to master the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While us panellists all came from different backgrounds and organisations, we all recognised that whatever the future may hold in technological terms, people and the relationships they build will still be the forces that keep firms going. People-driven efforts will be the biggest contributor to success.”

She explains: “technologists are absolutely welcome. As well as having valuable skills with the use of systems and data, they have insights into how best to pursue and harness all of the benefits that the digital age can provide. It is only natural that they will be more and more senior in organisations, because what they’re delivering is increasingly seen as mission critical. But along the way, it’s important for technologists to recognise that where they’re really adding value is in how they’re interfacing with businesses.

“Not everyone needs to know the specifics of how to make artificial intelligence meaningful – or virtual reality relevant – to a particular business model. But what every organisation should be able to do is ensure that its people grasp the potential that’s available within such technologies. They must also understand how their organisation, and industry sector as a whole, is changing under the influence of these technological drivers for change.”

For example, Cooper notes, it is clear that driverless cars are going to become a major force, now that so many different projects are being tested. “We can see that there is huge potential in that field,” she says, “and that it’s going to disrupt certain industries and make others obsolete. It doesn’t mean that every worker needs to know precisely how they operate to make them happen. But what they do need is someone in their presence who will serve as that interface; who can explain the fundamentals, so that staff have a firm foundation of understanding.

“By the same token, there’s no excuse for technologists not to see that a huge part of their role will be about communication. They will need to convey not the technical details of the field in which they’ve developed expertise, but a more strategic sense of the impact that the technology could have on i) the industry as a whole, ii) the lives of the people in the business and iii) the future of the organisation.”

Cooper adds: “what I’m calling for here is a framework of coaching and development that will enable technologists to fulfil that vital role. Ensuring that technologists have an appreciation of what it takes to communicate, and how to do so effectively, will be a vital step towards consolidating their positions as valuable company assets. Essentially, it’s that Brian Cox factor: the technologists who can make all these complex areas accessible and human to non-technical staff will be the ones we need to take us into the future.”

For further thoughts and insights on how to get your firm future ready, check out these learning resources from the Institute