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Rules for the CTO in the New Technology Dawn

The role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is evolving. Historically, the CTO was very technology centric and seen as pointy headed, but now the role has become centre stage for organisations transforming and disrupting. Some might say that ‘Chief Transformation Officer’ is a more apt title, given the pace of change that businesses need to go through in order to remain competitive.

The root of this disruptive change lies in technology, and business leaders - with their CTO - must ensure that innovation is the driving force behind business transformation. A billboard I saw in Silicon Valley proudly proclaims: “In this era of easy replication, where businesses struggle to differentiate themselves, those with the best tech win.”

In this new technological dawn, where ‘Innovate or Die’ becomes the mantra to live by, what are the rules that CTOs – and their teams – need to live by?

1. Create a great customer experience, not great products

In the past, technologists have focused on the thing they’ve built, rather than the problem it solves and the benefits for the end customer. It’s better to deliver an adequate product or service amazingly, rather than an amazing product badly. Ultimately, it’s the overall experience that users remember, not the technical specifications of the product itself.

2. Don’t get tied in

With the speed at which technology is evolving, there’s a good chance that your product or its components could become obsolete. All too often, businesses will get tied into five year deals for technology or services that become redundant half way through the contract.

Resist the lure of a slightly better deal, or a sales consultant’s friendliness over lunch, and design services with replacement in mind. Five years is a long time in the tech world. You only need to look at the fall of BlackBerry to see how quickly things can change.

3. Build, not buy

Nowadays, you can build non-commodity solutions quicker than you can procure them, a change that has really only occurred in the last 2-3 years. In building these solutions, the speed of delivery and outstanding customer experience should be paramount.

We are passionate about seeing how technology can help us pioneer new services and products to continue to improve business for our 200,000 global customers. I see this as a key part of my role as CTO.

4. It’s about business, not technology

It’s not good enough to just be technologically minded. If a CTO is going to be at the top table, they need to talking business, not technology, or their contribution will lack context. Similarly, CTOs not at the top table will be marginalised and lack the exposure to make the best impact.

The CTO needs to be business savvy and must understand marketing. In a world of ever evolving digital touch points; behaviours, conversion rates, advocacy, chunking (look it up) are the essential lingua franca.

5. Encourage self service

‘Shift left’ is a term that’s well used in the telco world, that has increasing relevance in wider business, and something I’ve been looking to promote in my role at Tungsten. By moving work to customers, they can serve themselves better and more quickly, whilst dramatically reducing customer support costs. 

The approach is simple: rank customer service events by frequency and customer impact, then set about creating self-serve solutions that allow customers to view and resolve their questions, issues and changes. The customer is happier, internal teams get to focus on more strategic challenges, and everyone wins.

6. End to end digital

The modern business will run on seamless digital processes that start and end with the customer. The decades spent on six-sigma, lean processes, total quality, and other such practices, can now be put to good use in creating simple, streamlined processes that remove the friction of old ways of working.

It’s something we’re taking seriously at Tungsten, where we’ve taken procurement, invoicing and payment procedures on to our electronic network. Historically, supply chains have often had lengthy and complicated, paper-based processes and this resulted in extremely fragmented business relationships. 

Digital supply chains, in contrast, have highly automated and transparent processes. Using technology to handle invoices streamlines the payment process and at the same time provides businesses with access to a wealth of data. Whether large or small, customer or supplier, firms can use this information to their own advantage to drive down costs and become more competitive.

7. Keep your eyes open to other industries

You might consider your business a leader in its own industry, but never assume that it’s at the top of its game compared to exemplars from other sectors. You can always find another business to take inspiration and acquire talent from. You may have a tech team that has remained loyally with the company for 10 or 20 years but if you don’t have a mechanism for keeping abreast of change, you’ll fall behind.

Bring in skills from other industries; someone from financial trading to show you how to create daily P&Ls and balance sheets; someone from engineering to teach you about how to deliver a five nines service. Never think you know everything. A CTO needs to be both experienced in, and heavily networked across several different industries. Ultimately, if you’re not planning to disrupt your industry you can bet that someone else will. If your current portfolio of technology initiatives won’t grow your business by ten-fold then throw it out and start again.

Now, more than ever before, if ‘those with the best tech win’ then the CTO must understand how existing and emerging technologies can be used to compete, innovate and disrupt. The CTO is a single point of success in ensuring that a business remains agile, inventive and relevant.

With so many new ideas and technologies being developed and trialled every day it’s such an exciting time to be the CTO in a business. The opportunities are limitless.

Brian Proffitt, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Tungsten Network (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa