We’ve spoken previously about how a successful Digital Transformation (DT) strategy requires careful alignment of people, process and technology – and this applies equally to private organisations as it does to the public sector.
With so many interconnected parts, coordinating your DT strategy also requires a holistic view of operations – including both the current ‘as-is’ situation and the future ‘to-be’ vision for your organisation.
Strong leadership that aligns the business behind the strategy is as important as strong technology
Strong technology leadership is a must when driving your transformation, to direct investment effectively – and keep stakeholders focused towards achieving the vision. Strong technology leadership, however, isn’t just about the tech. Digital transformation is (ultimately) customer-led and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or indeed any leader of DT must understand this, and be able to align the business behind a strategy to achieve it. The technology leader is a strategic role, separate from hands-on, low-level development and delivery, but not isolated from it.
The technology leader is a strategic role – demanding the soft skills to unite disparate needs behind a common goal
Typically, your technology leadership function will have governance and oversight of critical systems and the wider technology portfolio – and take responsibility for driving the technology roadmap for the business to keep it relevant and enable growth. Input from additional stakeholders cannot be underestimated however, as the digital transformation journey must serve the disparate needs of the organisation. A critical part of the CTO role is in uniting these needs behind a common goal, for example by setting up a ‘steering group’ to facilitate collaboration and communication, involving high-level representatives from functions including marketing, sales, finance, operations, customer service and more.
What does good technology leadership look like?
C-suite technology leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know every inner working of the technology you use, or understand the bleeding edge on the horizon. Your organisation needs to know enough to make sound decisions and investments to safeguard your digital transformation and grow your business.
There’s a balance between the need for teams to select the right technology for their circumstances and the need for consistency of tooling to reduce operating costs and complexities. For example, there’s usually little need for teams to use five different applications for generic tasks such as videoconferencing or project management and reporting. So good technology leadership has conversations with teams about their particular needs and finds the right balance between this specificity and the use of extra tools.
Conversely, the use of an innovative application or technology may unlock transformation opportunities or growth potential in other areas of the business; C-suite technology leadership helps to spot and exploit these opportunities.
Good technology leadership finds the balance between specificity and the bigger picture
Historically, it’s been relatively easy to downplay the need for technology leadership, but it is crucial for success in a digital business environment. For an organisation that is looking to make better use of technology, it is important that this technology is:
- Integral to the business plan and the company
- Coherent and integrated across the business
- Easy to use for both end users (service consumers) and middle users (service providers)
- Appropriate and affordable, both for now and in future
How do you get technology leadership onboard?
C-suite-level technology leadership is a high-value, in-demand specialisation. The ability to cover a wide range of technologies combined with business acumen, opportunity awareness and great communication and leadership is a relatively rare combination. Not every business can afford, or even need, a permanent full-time CTO. However, bringing in flexible board-level expertise is a perfectly usual situation for many businesses.
Not every business can afford, or even needs, a permanent CTO
Increasingly, functions such as Human Resources are being outsourced to service providers, and while not all businesses have a dedicated legal counsel working for them, many have an external lawyer whom they know and trust. These are very frequent arrangements, with a common theme that companies can cost-effectively outsource board-level, business-critical specialties that are not part of their core offering.
This same model can be applied to the technology space, and a “CTO as a Service” (CTOaaS) offering can help businesses that would benefit from strong technology leadership but cannot justify the investment in, or have the expertise to hire, a permanent full-time CTO.
What is CTO as a Service?
A highly flexible approach to technology leadership, CTO as a Service models allow you to define the range of responsibilities covered, time spent in the role, and duration of your engagement.
This differentiates the approach from simply hiring a contractor, many of whom may want a fixed-term, likely full-time contract. This means that while you can reduce cost over a permanent CTO, the expertise and “service” you get is all in one lump, for a fixed amount of time. After that, your technology leadership leaves the business, and while some knowledge may have been transferred, you are essentially back to square one.
Can your business handle a sudden influx of technology leadership and change? Just as importantly, can it handle the sudden exit of the same? This can work well for fire-fighting, when you have a technology emergency in the business which is the top priority to sort out as soon as possible. But it does not help so much for the longer-term vision and growth of the business.
What are the benefits of CTOaaS?
Engaging with CTO as a Service brings a number of key benefits for a business. The access to technology leadership can be phased in gradually to help with organisational change management. This can be achieved through a tailored CTOaaS programme, for example a monthly retainer for a certain minimum number of days per month, working to an agreed, but not necessarily narrow, remit.
The level of support can be ramped up or down in line with your business programmes and changes to circumstances. The “service” aspect of CTOaaS can extend to upskilling and knowledge transfer for your existing permanent staff, whether working directly in technology or in adjacent areas. For example, this can range from day-to-day process improvements such as Agile project management, through to mentoring and development of potential technology leadership staff, and many other aspects. CTOaaS can also come with a known and agreed exit strategy, to leave the business tangibly better off in both the short- and long-term.
Enhanced access to knowledge and expertise that can be ramped up and down
Possibly the biggest benefit of CTOaaS is the enhanced access to knowledge and expertise on offer. Hiring a CTO, either permanently or as a contractor, gives you access to the experience and knowledge of just that person. CTOaaS gives you access to the combined expertise and experience of an entire technology organisation, way beyond what is accessible to even the most able of individuals.
When you have a problem, a good CTOaaS provider will likely have seen something similar and know what to do, or have access to that experience, as well as to the sort of innovative, creative problem-solving skills that will allow you to tackle something new and different. This level of service and legacy-on-exit can be obtained for less than the investment of a permanent CTO, giving you an affordable, accessible edge over your competitors.
Bringing in the technological leadership that’s right for you
In order for your digital transformation activities to be fruitful, you’ll need some level of technology leadership. The responsibilities of this technology leader are wide and diverse; some may already be covered within your organisation, but many may not.
If you’re looking to bring these skills in, the flexible model of CTO as a Service can provide you with a powerful technology voice in the areas you need it most, to facilitate short-term initiatives as well as drive long-term growth. At Box UK we have a strong team of bespoke software consultants with more than two decades of bespoke software development experience who are ideally placed to support you in this journey – if you’re interested in finding out more about how we can help you, contact us on +44 (0)20 7439 1900 or email [email protected]