From Technology to Transformation – The Evolved CTO

Jan 15, 2019

Meet the new age Chief Technology Officer – the spearhead of the digital transformation movement of the modern enterprise. Out of the multitude of technological challenges they have overcome successfully, the successful integration of AI, the security of blockchain and the integration of a globally distributed workforce may be their biggest challenge yet. A closer look at the skills they need to overcome this challenge.

Technology has moved on from being a competitive advantage to a survival mechanism in the digitally transformed world. Almost every single initiative that major corporations have undertaken over the last two years have involved some degree of technology integration, and this trend is likely to grow in the years to come. For example, artificial intelligence initiatives are projected to boost productivity by as much as 40%, doubling economic growth rates. Companies spent $8bn in AI technologies in 2016 alone, and this is likely to increase at a 20%+ growth rate as the statistics for 2018 start rolling in.

At the heart of this transformation is the CTO, probably the most versatile CXO after the CEO in the modern, transformed enterprise. The multi-faceted role of the CTO has only grown in exponents over the past five years, as enterprises have moved to the cloud, leveraged AI, and are in the process of implementing several blockchain based initiatives. Cybersecurity remains a critical component and the Technology Quotient of the enterprise determines the degree of involvement it has with external stakeholders, whether customers, vendors or regulatory authorities.

As with the job description, the skills required to be a successful and sought after CTO has evolved drastically as well. The essentials, however, have remained the same. The CTO, circa 2018, has to be a visionary, a constant learner and the cross functional bridge between management and the technology teams and vendors. While these are the essentials, the peripherals have changed over time, and CTO’s need to be many things, including:

Enterprise Architecture Ninjas

The most important technical function of the CTO is to design a competitive and secure enterprise IT architecture that is failsafe and future-proof. This is as true today as it was a couple of decades ago. However, the nuances of technology have changed drastically, and the more the CTO can get automation and AI to work, the more they can ensure seamless operations at scale and continuously reinvent enterprise architecture to create value, the more sought after they will be. A well rounded system of architectural knowledge, backed by world class professional credentials has become the new normal for a CTO’s profile, and forms the heart of their essential skillsets in the modern enterprise.

Coding Savants

Yes, they code, at least the best of breed do. Not only to continuously keep themselves updated about the newest languages, practices and methodologies, but also to gain deeper insights into the user experience, retain technical competence and constantly sharpen their skills. Industry experts are also of the view that a regular honing of coding skills enables CTOs to hire better programmers and plan technology deployments better. Not to mention, of course, proactive participation in programming on a regular basis encourages the entire technology team to perform, or rather, outperform, as a whole.

Effective Delegators and Negotiators

CTOs typically start out as programmers or systems architects and then climb the rungs to planning and strategy. Like any other CXO, and especially in the case of technology, delegation and negotiating are absolute must-have skills for the modern CTO. Facilitating management buy-in for newer technology platforms and integration of multiple technology stacks go hand in hand for the transformed enterprise. Being a skillful negotiator is an essential trait as well. In an AI world, there are very few technology teams with less than 5 members across the enterprise, so multi-level and cross functional delegation are critical areas. All of these together represent two essential skillsets that the modern CTO must possess: that of effective delegation of tasks and being a skilled negotiator with management, vendors and the technology team.

World Class Team Players

The days of the single-person technology teams managing multiple vendors are as extinct as the enterprise-wide in-house, centralized RDBMS. Multi-faceted technology teams are leading organizations into the new business era, and are looking up to the CTO as the common thread that binds them all. From technology functions like security, data and UX, straight up to proactive partners in third party technology stack implementations, being a people-centric manager and an effective team player is as important as being proficient in intelligent automation technologies.

Pioneering Learning and Development

The world wakes up and sleeps with a trending topic. The race to stay relevant or in laymen word ‘happening’ is gaining a speed that is comparable if not higher than the speed of light. It takes a blink of an eye to lose that USP you created after months of brainstorming. And there are no points for guessing that technology is behind the fast paced business dynamics. The moment a technocrat steps on the CTO shoes it is not just about creating that perfect digital/technological strategy, but it is about initiating learning as a daily prerogative.

As, a CTO you are responsible to connect people to the skills that makes your team stay relevant to ensure organizational sustainability. Skill gap is one of the biggest pain points of recruitment and retention. And the gap becomes a chasm in technology, where skill upgrade is the life-force of the team. A CTO here is the mentor and facilitator who creates an environment of learning and knowledge sharing. Let go of the “I am right, you are wrong attitude” and be a patient listener with a diplomat’s intuition of picking up the best suggestion even when it unsettles your perceptions. The new recruit may know something that you have missed out and creating a pool of ideas will help you stay ahead of the learning curve.

Learning should be daily practice and the initiation starts with the CTO desk. Certifying employees for their acquired skills standardizes the process. With regular updates, skill enhancement becomes a regular and validated process. The Learning and Development initiative may meander into nothingness without an objective tab. Brainstorming, skill certification and creating a knowledge sharing without the fear of rebuttal keeps the ship steady and amidst favorable winds. The CTOs here are the drivers of the change.

As the role of the CTO continues to evolve, it is growing vastly more complex and focused at the same time. Organizations today spend between 5% - 8% of their annual revenues on technology development initiatives alone. The modern CTO is equal parts technology and transformation. The day isn’t far when we see them as straight contenders for the CEO role.

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