What are successful CTOs doing differently?
More than a year on from the start of the pandemic, digital transformation (DTX) has emerged as a key strategy to combat the negative economic impact of lockdown. For some, the pandemic accelerated already existing plans to adopt technology, while others who already had technology in place saw their investments justified in terms of efficiency and business agility.
With this in mind, attention has now shifted away from whether technology is a good investment in itself, to now focus upon those most responsible for making DTX a success: the Chief Technology Offices.
What does a successful DTX look like? What should be avoided? How do you approach selling-in your ideas to the board? And ultimately, what makes a good CTO stand out from the rest?
Competency upwards, collaboration downwards
It’s one thing to decide on the technology and plan the route ahead, but it’s another entirely to sell that into the board. A good CTO needs the soft skills to balance and build a bridge between the developers below them, and the business-minded executives at board level.
While developers will naturally be advocates of technology, the real challenge for a CTO lies in convincing CEOs (who may lack technological literacy) that they should invest time and money in solutions that they have little to no understanding of.
The challenge, therefore, becomes one of communication. For CEOs, their decision-making can ultimately only be as good as the data provided. By tracking key trends, analysing the right data, and using the correct metrics, a CTO can highlight the inefficiencies present in a business. With this in hand, they can showcase exactly how and where an investment in technology can optimise certain processes and ultimately improve the bottom line.
Ultimately, even if a CEO does lack technological literacy, CTOs can effectively circumvent this by presenting a compelling business case rooted in data and analysis. By proving that technology will deliver a return on investment, you can remove the need to delve into the minutiae of the proposed technology altogether.
Addressing the digital skills gap
Similarly, a good CTO must address the very real problem of the digital skills gap. While this can be tackled by internal training and good recruitment, choosing to invest in a bespoke software solution ensures that this gap can be narrowed as early as possible.
For example, when building a custom solution, businesses can develop software that builds on their existing workflows and terminology. Unlike an off-the-shelf solution - which usually imprints a standard approach to a company’s unique processes - a bespoke system can use language and processes that are already familiar to the user, making it easier for staff to understand new solutions while also minimising training time. Furthermore, by developing and deploying these systems quickly and iteratively, a CTO can build buy-in by incorporating user feedback and improvements into new releases, allowing the staff to feel they have ownership of the new system.
Meanwhile, parallel running alongside legacy systems to bring new users into the new system in small groups minimises risk and ensures that staff are trained early and expert users can be quickly identified and put to work training their peers.
Out with the old
Another stumbling block that prevents CTOs from being truly effective is the manner in which they approach their legacy systems. To drive real change, successful CTOs must be bold enough to risk the disruption of changing critical systems, but pitching a full systems replacement in the current business climate is a tough sell.
Even the CEOs that are believers in the power of digital transformation will be looking to minimise risk wherever possible. CTOs need to be mindful of building confidence in their team and their approach before embarking on wholescale, business-critical change.
Instead of diving straight into a business-wide full scale project, CTOs can instead present bite-sized, smaller-scale solutions that focus on optimisations across the business projects that are narrower in their focus. These will be more palatable due to the lower investment, resource and ultimately risk, while still allowing the business to adopt technology and gain a competitive advantage. By greenlighting small teams working on proof of concept projects, CTOs can demonstrate technical competence and ROI to gain board confidence in approving big ticket projects.