The Ever-evolving Role of The CTO in 2020 & Beyond – Are You Ready?

0
191
Allen Spokane
Allen Spokane,
CTO at Carisk Partners

INTRODUCTION

As Bob Dillon once said just a few years ago, “The Times They Are a Changing” and this statement reflects the current state of IT to perfection.  So many topics that only a relatively short time ago were considered “Pie in the Sky” and we thought we had years before we would see as mainstream, are here now.  If you aren’t using these technologies or at least seriously looking into using them, you may see technology pass you by.  Of course, this is all centered on the emergence of “cloud” computing which can mean many different things to many different people.

On the infrastructure and Operations side, Cloud computing involves server hosting, backup, virtualization, IoT, SaaS-based software solutions amongst many other topics.

On the development side, Rapid Application Development has taken on new meaning as there are new platforms, tools and databases available to developers that have changed the way we develop and implement software.  Client-Server applications are on the decline, although there are some industries that still rely heavily on them, and web-bases SaaS solutions are abundant for almost any business application your organization may need such as ERP, Finance and Accounting, CRM, Production, etc.

This paradigm shift has forced all of us (business stakeholders as well as IT Team members) to take security concerns to a new higher level that we have never before.  If you aren’t doing that, chances are your clients and business partners are and you are going to get caught in the crossfire.

In present times, there is not only the need but the expectation for corporate IT Departments to not just assist, but take the lead in providing innovative solutions to our businesses for automation.  Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotic/Business Process Automation are no longer just for the Amazons and Googles of the world.  They are now for everyone.   Again, if you aren’t at least seriously researching how your business can use these technologies, you may be making yourself obsolete.

Finally, there is a personal element added to all of this that has dramatically changed the expectation for not only the CxO but the IT Department in general.  We are no longer considered the “back office” team that need not have interpersonal or communication skills.  Our business skills and acumen are now equally as important as our technical skills.  Many of the younger generations of IT Staff members will find this transition natural, while more seasoned veterans may find it difficult.  In any case, it is real.

BOARDROOM PRESENCE AND DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

For the last century or so, corporations have had a desire for IT to have a “presence” in the board room.   When I say the “board room” I don’t necessarily mean physically sitting in a board room or meeting although that may be the case depending on your organization’s structure.  It really means involvement in business decisions and business planning.  The changed thinking was from the ’70s to 90’ was from IT being the team that just “keeps systems running” to IT being a team that “may be able to help with this.”  This change was welcomed as it brought a new level of respect to IT people and brought us “out of the server room and into the boardroom.”  There were so many headline presentations and articles written with similar quotes that you almost got tired of hearing it.

As we approach 2020, the new expectation is that not only will IT have a boardroom presence, but IT will be driving the discussion.  The “Digital Transformation” trend that so many organizations are tackling now is often led by cross-departmental “teams” that have business stakeholders working hand-in-hand with IT and technical staff to transform and shape the future of the business with an emphasis on using new technology to innovate and revolutionize your business.  It is no longer about can we get it done in 30 minutes instead of 30 days, it is now about how can we completely “transform” our business.  When we do, we may discover that it is actually a completely different business.  It is no longer about automating a job to reduce headcount and save, it is more about creating an intelligent, fulfilled workforce that is doing meaningful work that is appropriate and less labor specific tasks.  eCommerce is everywhere, there are no business models left that won’t have an element of it.

Nothing drives this point home better than the emergence of some of the most influential businesses of modern times.  Who would have thought 15 or 20 years ago that the most prevalent transportation organization in the country would not own any vehicles or have any drivers employed by them?  Or that one of the largest hospitality organizations on the web today doesn’t own any property?  There are examples in almost every industry such as healthcare, financial services, travel, sports and entertainment and automotive.  If you sit back and think you can come up with examples in each area.  All of these successful organizations thought outside the box and did real “Digital Transformation” to the point that they became “Technology Disruptors.”  There is no indication of it slowing down either, in fact, it will speed up.  3D Printing, LiFi (the next “WiFi”) and Gene Editing at various levels are the next disruptors that we will certainly see in our lifetime.

With this rapid-paced development of new disruptive technologies, as IT leaders, we still have to remember the lessons we learned from our pasts about “bleeding edge” vs. “leading edge.”  We all know colleagues and friends that may have jumped on the “cloud bandwagon” a little too soon and got burned by it.  Certainly, there were many businesses that emerged during the dot com boom that didn’t come out on the other side.

You will need a certain skill-set to take your organization to the next level through Digital Transformation and innovation.  Do you have the skillset?  It is likely different than the job you signed up for.  Let’s take a deeper look into that.

SKILL SET SHIFT – DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

The paradigm shift has absolutely created a need for IT leaders to have different skillsets today than they did as little as five years ago.  We are in a rapidly changing business sector.  Certainly, our worth is measured less by our “hands-on technical skills” and more about our “transformation and innovation management skills.”  IT leaders in today’s world also need to be more skilled in negotiating and vendor/resource management.

I remember a time not that long ago where senior business leaders would flat out state that IT’s primary function is to keep the systems running.  For the most part, in my experiences, these days are gone. It is expected that email will work, web sites will run and production systems will work as expected. We all have staff that is dedicated to these types of functions and to some extent, we spend time making sure this is the case.  Take an inventory though and make sure it isn’t taking up the majority or even a significant portion of your time.  If it is, do what you need to do to change it before someone else does.  Spend the majority of your time and effort on the strategic projects and initiatives that are going to transform your business.  Your business stakeholders and co-workers are more educated in technology than ever before.  To some extent, they speak our language and they know the “buzz words” so we can have some great conversations with them about emerging technologies.  Do this with open, honest communication.  To put it bluntly, be nice!  Break the old school IT stereotype which has archaic thoughts in it such as quoting projects in “man-years.”  Be an approachable, intelligent, business savvy leader as opposed to a “back office” IT person.  Partner with the business side, don’t alienate them.  Welcome Shadow IT as opposed to fighting it.  Attitude is everything, make sure yours is amazing.  If users want to push to “bleeding edge” you will be able to pull them back if you have a good rapport and relationship with them and mutual respect.  We are all in it together.  Speaking of together, what about your team?

Make sure that you are building a team and not a monopoly.  It is absolutely not in your best interest to protect yourself by keeping your knowledge and skills to yourself or a small group of people.  Gone are the days where you hear an IT personnel referred to as “that is the only person that can take care of it.”  If that is happening with you or your team, stop it and correct it immediately!  You should have someone under you in the organization that wants your job and you may very likely want your boss’ job or someone else senior to you.  This is healthy and promotes “upward movement” within the organization.  Hopefully, your organization supports this type of movement and you can discuss it with your superiors and team members in an open forum.

We spent a lot of time in this section talking about “soft skills” but don’t forget, we are IT people and we still require technical skills as well.  As our technical skills evolve, Security will become paramount.  Let’s spend some more time on security.

SECURITY

Security has been a part of IT for a long time, but it has changed dramatically.  Gone are the days where security meant just locking doors, putting Anti-Virus software on PCs and servers and changing passwords. Yet it still means all of those things, just much more.

The bad guys have gotten smarter and more manipulative and our vulnerability is greater.  We do EVERYTHING online now, in our personal lives and our business lives.  The “Dark Web” is not just a marketing campaign, it is real and we have to be concerned about it.  Everyone is a target and not to coin a phrase from the many security vendors out that there that try to sell their products and services to us, but it is no longer a matter of “if” you will be attacked but a matter of “when.”  Security now involves all of the traditional hardware and software elements described above but also user training, education and testing.

Every time you read a survey of IT leaders, they always indicate that their biggest concern is security and it is often the item they have to fight hardest to get budget dollars and resources for.  Make sure you are fighting the fight and winning and make sure you have appropriate staffing, planning and documentation in place.

SUMMARY

We have touched on many topics such as skillset shift, boardroom presence, digital transformation and security.  In summary, I think a good practice that I do regularly and I highly recommend you do also is to take a personal inventory.  Ask yourself some key questions and see how you answer them.  Are your answers different than they were 90-days ago or a year ago? How about five years ago?  Some of these questions may be:

  • Are your technical skills and soft skills in alignment with what was discussed?
  • Do you have a “seat” and a “say” at the boardroom in your organization?
  • Is your attitude proper? What are your co-workers’ perceptions of you and your department?
  • Are you innovating and automating?
  • Does security have the proper resources assigned to it in your organization and it is emphasized properly?
  • Are you involved more in strategic projects or day to day operations?
  • Are you and your team aligned properly for succession planning and redundancy?

Our organizations, like us, are not perfect so there are going to be areas where you have excelled and areas you have to work within the limitations of your environment.  Accept that and welcome the change.  We work in an exciting, ever-changing area and we are more aligned with or business co-workers than ever before.  It is an exciting time, enjoy what you do and the rest will follow!

About Author: Allen Spokane started his career as a developer and worked with various Microsoft-based development and database platforms in a variety of business settings with an emphasis on healthcare technology. He has extensive experience in database design and architecture in CRM, direct marketing and home-grown ERP Systems.
After holding several VP positions in IT, he gained extensive experience in infrastructure and operations. He considers himself a “hands-on” executive and has always maintained close ties back to his roots in development and infrastructure.
Mr. Spokane is currently the CTO for Carisk Partners, a specialty risk transfer, care coordination company. Mr. Spokane also currently serves as the President of the Society for Information Management's New Jersey Chapter (SIM-NJ). Mr. Spokane earned a BS in Business from Ithaca College. He lives in western New Jersey with his wife, Sandra and two daughters, Marissa and Olivia, ages 19 and 14, respectively. In his off time, he is an avid classic car fan and enjoys running and camping with his family.