Chief Technology Officer or Constantly Toughing (it) Out?

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In the rapidly evolving business landscape, technology has become the backbone of every organization. As a result, the role of Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) has transformed significantly over the last two decades. What was once merely a support function has now become a critical department responsible for maintaining, updating, and evolving the technology that underpins the entire business. The breadth of this technical challenge is immense, encompassing employees in various roles who heavily rely on technology to perform their tasks efficiently. However, amidst the continuous hype of new game-changing technologies, CTOs are faced with the conundrum of selecting the right solutions to drive digital transformation and ultimately benefit their customers.

The breadth of the technical challenge

In today's digital era, technology touches every aspect of a business, irrespective of the industry. Even professionals who might not consider themselves technologists, such as lawyers, marketers, and retailers, rely heavily on technology tools like laptops, smartphones, and software applications to streamline their processes and automate tasks. The essence of digital transformation lies in leveraging technology to benefit both businesses and their customers. However, the rush to adapt to the digital world during the pandemic led some companies to make hasty tech decisions, resulting in incorrect solutions that aggravated existing problems.

For example, a retailer seeking to enable online purchases hastily deployed an e-commerce site with inadequate security measures. This resulted in a data breach that eroded customer trust and required additional investments to fix. Such incidents underscore the need for CTOs to thoroughly evaluate new technologies before integration to ensure they truly address business needs without creating bigger issues down the line.

Chris Gilmour

CTO at Axians UK.

The juggling act of CTOs

As businesses strive to stay competitive and innovative, CTOs face the daunting task of integrating new technologies to transform the organization. They must solicit inputs from every department, including sales, finance, and operations, to understand the technical requirements and steer the company's direction effectively. Moreover, CTOs must grapple with budget constraints, balancing spending on essential needs like cybersecurity and connectivity with investing in transformative innovations.

For instance, while blockchain and AI may offer long-term benefits, investing in stronger data security and reliable networks may provide more immediate impacts. CTOs must become adept at juggling such tradeoffs. Aligning technology roadmaps across departments and gaining executive buy-in for digital transformation initiatives are also key CTO priorities. Success requires masterful cross-functional collaboration and strategic planning abilities from CTOs.

Building an ecosystem of partners

Given the complexity and magnitude of technical operations, CTOs often seek external support to scale up their capabilities. Collaborating with Managed Services Providers (MSPs), Systems Integrators (SIs), and Value Added Resellers (VARs) becomes crucial to access specialized expertise and services. However, navigating the vast landscape of potential partners can be overwhelming, as each focuses on different areas, such as device performance, cloud hosting, cybersecurity, and network analytics.

Selecting partners strategically based on the company's specific technology gaps and transformation objectives is key for CTOs to extract maximum value from these external collaborations. CTOs may also need to coordinate multiple partner relationships to address the breadth of the organisation's technology needs. Managing these partnerships requires excellent vendor management abilities to ensure accountability, transparency, and continued value delivery.

Tech FOMO and burst budgets

The advent of shiny, new technologies often tempts businesses to invest in the latest trends, leaving them burdened with technical debt when older platforms become redundant. CTOs must make thoughtful decisions about replacing or removing obsolete technologies and integrating new tools. They should develop clear criteria to evaluate new solutions, rather than getting swayed by flashy marketing claims.

For example, rigorous proof of concept testing, total cost of ownership analysis, and alignment assessments with long-term roadmaps should guide technology adoption decisions. A meticulous technology auditing process is essential to identify outdated legacy systems ripe for modernization or retirement. Re-platforming them incrementally while maintaining critical business functions helps optimize budgets.

Freeing up time to innovate

To keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape, CTOs need time and resources to innovate and experiment with new solutions. Implementing a reliable and robust network ensures seamless daily operations with minimal disruptions - you could call this a ‘Silent Network’, freeing up technical teams to explore and integrate emerging technologies.

By focusing on long-term strategic goals and considering how new technology can enhance reputation, market share, profitability, and sustainability, businesses can set themselves up for continuous success. Rather than reacting to the latest hype, proactive technology innovation tied to corporate strategy allows companies to lead rather than follow digital transformation trends.

In the age of perpetual change, businesses must recognise that technology plays an indispensable role in driving growth and innovation. CTOs, as key drivers of digital transformation, face numerous challenges in selecting the right technology and partners, all while managing budgets and existing technical requirements. By leveraging the power of 'The Silent Network' and maintaining a clear focus on long-term objectives, businesses can equip themselves to adapt to whatever the future holds and thrive in the ever-evolving technological landscape.

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Chris Gilmour is CTO at Axians UK.