Many dream of reaching the top of the business ladder: the C-Suite. For those from a technology or data background, it seems the route to the top table has become a bit easier. Tech and data-driven roles have become more prevalent, notably the role of Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer. Digital transformation doesn’t just apply to organisations but also their senior management, it seems.

What’s behind the rise of the CDO?

There are several reasons for this. They mostly centre around the need for organisations to embrace technology, to become more tech and data literate, and prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 100 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2025 – leading towards a trillion sensor ecosystem just a few years later.

Plus, some one billion digital natives will join the workforce over the next seven years. They have vastly different expectations of the workplace compared to, say, the Baby Boomer generation. They expect it to be tech-enabled at every stage and to experience the same level of personalisation and ease when working and using enterprise tech, as they do when using their smartphones.

These organisational changes, to take advantage of external opportunities and shift internal processes, requires tech-literate leadership. Hence why CDOs are in high demand.

The current state of CDO demand

Leadership positions that relate to “data, digital and transformation” have grown more than 289% since 2013. In under a decade, the CDO has claimed their seat at the boardroom table, marking a new era of senior leadership, with Niall McKinney, global president of digital learning company Avado, stating that “failure to adopt digital leadership positions will leave businesses unprepared for 2020.”

The existing C-Suite also requires some upskilling. Understanding what tech to implement, what digital strategy to approve and what to invest in, requires a degree of technical understanding. Luckily, the C-Suite is going through a generational shift and becoming more tech-literate organically.

The C-Suite becoming tech-literate

Executives who came of ‘business age’ during the rise of the personal computer (now between 40 and 50 years old) are assuming senior leadership positions. Dubbed ‘Generation PC’ they show greater interest and value in emerging Internet technology and a willingness to explore new tools. They see the Internet as a top information resource and regularly turn to self-service options to research emerging trends and solutions.

This tech literacy will only improve as younger generations climb the ladder. Under 40s don’t know an office without email or the Internet. They’re increasingly inhabiting the upper ranks just below the C-Suite and are a growing influence on the boardroom.

How to get into the digital C-Suite

For those looking to get a seat at the table, it’s worth boosting your tech and data literacy – and always keep an eye out for the next big thing. A solid grounding in fundamental Fourth Industrial Revolution technology like artificial intelligence (AI), the blockchain, automation, and the IoT will always serve you well.

Demand for CDOs and similar will only grow. Understanding the opportunities and limitations of AI et al will be a boardroom pre-requisite. It also shows initiative and motivation – two characteristics that have always been needed in the C-Suite.

Go above and beyond, especially with data and digital, and you’ll soon find the boardroom doors open to you.