CTO Pulse Survey 2020

Korn Ferry surveyed 220 Technology Officers from around the globe. We explored their relationship with the CEO, how IT is viewed within their organization, and their desire for more collaboration. Much of this was relevant to the situation they find themselves in with today’s pandemic.

Technology Officers are front and center

In a matter of weeks, Technology Officers became the heart of many companies’ efforts to quickly turn their businesses into remote digital successes. The pivot only emphasized that organizational change, while improving, needs to become more widespread. According to the survey, 67% of Technology Officers report to the CEO, and only 78% sit on the executive committee. Korn Ferry also discovered that the larger the company, the less likely it is that a Technology Officer will report to a CEO. This number varies by industry: consumer Technology Officers and financial services Technology Officers report to CEOs at 71% and 69% respectively, with industrial Technology Officers lagging at 59%. The results also vary by region, and the data shows that Technology Officers in North America are less likely to report to the CEO or sit on the executive team.

Percent of Technology Officers who report to the CEO, by region

  North America

  All other regions




Percent of Technology Officers who sit on the executive team, by region

  North America

  All other regions




“The COVID19 crises has been a defining moment for CIO’s.  Many CIO’s are “front & center” in the C Suite as never before, contributing more broadly and leading the charge to maintain business continuity, IT security and resiliency says Gerry McNamara, Global Practice Leader of Korn Ferry’s Technology Officer Practice.  Companies that have invested heavily in virtualization tools are delivering in this environment while those that have not are paying a heavy price.”

Craig Stephenson, North American Practice Leader of Korn Ferry’s Technology Officers practice, agrees. “Technology Officers have been a part of North American corporate culture for a long time but historically were relegated to a support role. In today’s environment, technology and digital now play a central role in an organization’s success.”

Similarly, organizational perspective and how the job is viewed will need to evolve. Prior to the pandemic, only 16% of Technology Officers said the IT function was viewed as a strategic leader/innovator; the majority (56%) feel that it’s viewed as a business partner instead. To be more effective, 34% felt they needed greater collaboration with other C-suite leaders—more than needing greater resources (21%) or increased budget (17%).

Driving transformation through collaboration

According to the Technology Officers surveyed, there are three main obstacles to technology transformation: stakeholder alignment (26%), navigating a complex legacy environment (25%), and lack of funding and resources (21%). These three answers are tightly interconnected. Technology Officers need stakeholder alignment to help navigate a complex legacy environment. They also need stakeholder alignment on the importance of navigating the complex legacy environment to secure the necessary funding and resources. This is already playing out as peers of CIOs recognize how important IT capabilities are. “The level of collaboration with CIOs is at an inflection point,” McNamara says. “No one wants to be caught flat-footed.”

The technology journey is accelerating

Today’s environment has shed light on the need for agility and standardization. Yet only recently, those needs were dreams: 43% of Technology Officers believe completion and integration of digital capabilities is the most desired outcome for their business. However, only 9% said their organization had completed or nearly completed that journey.

“Years ago, the CIO position was a siloed function. Now, businesses can’t open their doors without being connected,” McNamara says. “CIOs are really going to be like COOs. I’d venture to say no other executive in business understands where the information is and how it flows. The CIOs who keep businesses up and running, data secure and safe, and people functioning will emerge as very accomplished senior leaders.”

Technology Officers Action Plan


  • Double down on security issues raised from working remotely with employees and clients
  • Expand bandwidth and digital infrastructure to keep information available, accurate, safe, and secure
  • Prioritize tactical plans over strategic ones to shift capital, ensuring virtualization and working remotely are prioritized


  • Have technology personnel scanning the horizon to stay on top of what’s occurring, what may be coming, and whether the company is equipped to handle different scenarios
  • Map out processes and methods, and automate as much as possible
  • Increase digital initiatives and channel presence


  • Incorporate sea changes that have worked in today’s environment. For example, does the firm need to open 20 more offices and spend money on real estate? Or should it shift capital elsewhere if workers have proven they can be successful remotely?
  • Understand how CIOs can contribute broadly to the business beyond IT and in general management roles
  • Use data and automation to help understand how to create better strategies for future tough times

Download PDF