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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Different Path same Destination

Our world is changing dramatically, Stock Markets have become more like Roller coasters, many businesses are now satisfied with sustainable business models as opposed to rapid growth and many technology companies are suggesting that hardware and software sales could be in for a difficult time. The result of all of this? Zero to Low confidence within businesses on their journey of business evolution as they continue on their journey in the increasingly global and competitive landscape. At this point I can already hear a few people wondering how this has anything to do with the common topic of my blogs, the impact of technology on the world we live in? Well it does, so let me explain.
Today’s businesses and technology are intertwined to such a degree that you can’t look at one without understanding the implications, limitations or even changes required to the other. Many CXO’s that I speak to lately are concerned with the balancing act they are facing – how do they invest in technology to ensure they can support their business requirements but at the same time manage a tight rope balance of cost vs. business benefit without knowing what is happening in the next 3 months let alone 3 years!
Many businesses are offering increased flexibility in their products but they are equally concerned with their own business models and outlook resulting in their own business concerns. On that basis it is time to throw out the guide book and reconsider business models for a new era, a period of sustained unpredictability as a vehicle for change. I have said it before in one of my blogs, we as individuals and society drive technology, we should not accept that technology will limit our own choices or for that matter determine our own path to success. Consider for a moment what would happen if we knew our oil would run out (I know not a pleasant thought!), we would adapt and look at alternatives to ensure our needs were met ensuring we could continue with our journey as we already are starting to do so!
Each and every business has a vision or a goal they are seeking to achieve over a 3 to 5 year period, many are concerned that the current instability in the market is placing that goal at risk. What is required is for businesses to reassess the path they are taking to achieve their goal. It may take longer, it may require acceptance that they are evolving from a straight highway to a windy mountain path, which requires a more graduated approach to ensure the business does not slip backwards as it progresses towards its goal.
Once we have identified the new path to achieve our goal and/or vision businesses can then look to what role technology could and will play in supporting the journey along that path. This is a crucial pause point, looking to technology in the same way as we have done in the past will simply result in reliving “Groundhog Day” (for those of you who don't understand that analogy watch the movie!). We need to look at the principles of what technology can provide in its simplest form and redesign the manner in which that technology is both delivered/implemented and supported. What I mean is we need to look at how we reshape the use of technology, from its commercial, integration and utilization aspects. Business are looking for new ways of working as they seek to break the cycle of change they find themselves in today with various factors pulling their decision making in different directions.
Technology can support businesses in continuing their journey to their goal by ensuring that communication and IT developments are not static and that they can be moulded to the needs of the business. The end benefit of this approach is a return to three year planning, an increased confidence in formulating longer term decision making and commitments … Why? Simply because if you know that your business can access levers across your organization from commercial, technology, geography and people in order to adapt to your changing business environment then your business will equally grow in confidence and will increasingly develop an inherent ability to adapt and anticipate market change.
On that note I leave you with two final comments – Stay on your path, your vision is the key to the sustainability of your business and remind yourself that technology is only an enabler. Accept that the path to realizing your goal may change and that it is your adaptability as a business that will result in the greatest chance of achieving success!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

It's Official - The world is now virtual!

Let me start by saying I still believe we are just talking about Virtualization but to keep this simple we will use the marketing term “Cloud Computing”!
With the announcement from Apple that they are entering the world of Cloud services, looks like we now have all of the key players offering cloud services and as I think about it we can do just about anything in the cloud. Yes Nathan, fair enough … but why write about a topic which is one of the most talked about subjects in the technology industry today? Well the reason is the developments in virtualization to deliver Cloud Computing is on the verge of creating significant divergence of technology, as every vendor, provider and SI attempts to make ground in this space. Someone recently described to me the Cloud Computing landscape as a “Cloud Universe”, a complex mix of platforms serving different requirements and very much like our space programs seeking another “Earth” so will it be for Cloud Compute providers. Trying to find that elusive partner with whom you can bridge your platform to provide businesses with a hybrid platform across Private and public whilst leveraging your specialization.
I know there will be many providers and vendors thinking that this is not the case that there are only a handful of components to the platform and that you can probably count the key modules on two hands. That’s fair, however let me give you another analogy, consider building a house out of Lego bricks, you have 10 different colour bricks, and that as a minimum one wall must be a different colour from the others (given the fact we have not seen a single block which provides all cloud compute requirements – today at least), now consider how many different ways you could build that house. This is the same challenge we have with cloud computing with a large number of permutations of cloud computing and the number expected to continue to grow our focus needs to not be on driving singular standards of cloud computing but actually on the ability to build interoperability interfaces between the different platforms.
I can already hear people asking why that is important, well consider a business’s processes within their business, take specifically their supply chain process, some aspects of this process such as the financial elements are critical and therefore must be secure and therefore in a private cloud, others such as those for ordering and tracking systems are more likely to be partially public for access an interface but information on other vendors or distributors must be private and then finally providing access to products and offering for customers whether that be software or a service catalogue, this must be able to scale to meet the demands of the customer at any given point in time and accessible to all through a multitude of devices, hence public. Of course we could design a Cloud Compute Platform that achieves all of this for a Supply Chain process, but then how do we engage the banking system for transactions or the distribution company who will have their own system?
It is this complexity in process, choice and type of business that is driving the development of cloud compute platforms to meet specific requirements, it is also the reason we are facing a cloud universe. I am very excited about the market developments and innovation happening in Cloud Computing and I am sure we will continue to hear new services being launched and partnerships being formed in years to come, but I would urge cloud providers to also think about the interfaces they are building to be able to offer cross cloud services, therefore remaining focused on solving the customer’s requirements end to end as opposed to driving businesses to build their own interconnects with a multitude of Cloud capabilities.
I leave you with one final thought, remember when you had to choose between Beta and VHS from the Video store, and your choice of movie was limited by the one that your system could run, yes eventually VHS won out, but with Cloud computing we are talking about having more than a 1,000 variations of VHS or Beta, do we really know who would win that race, or should we just develop a universal Video Player or in this case Cloud Compute framework that can talk to all and therefore leverage the unique strengths of each cloud offering?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Innovation - Pull or Push?

Formula 1 Regulation changes are made in order to drive innovation and create competition to ensure the requirements of the users (us the public) are maintained (or more simply to keep us glued to the screen to watch the next season!). The FIA continues to adapt and refine the regulations and design criteria, this is done EVERY Year. Now consider for a moment our own technology markets, there are no changing rules (ok the occasional intervention by the regulatory body to ensure some form of “parenting” is in place to “protect” the end consumer.), there are no demands on how we must run a certain technology, of course if they ever did we all gasp in horror and demand immediate justice! Right?  … So is this an article about technology regulation? Absolutely Not! There are far smarter people than I to have that discussion, what I would like to discuss is the importance of adaptability to Innovation. Phew that took a while but ok now we are finally here.
I stand in admiration of Formula one team's who manage to build a brand new Formula 1 car every year, despite the continuous changes they are asked to adapt to. Take this year for example, A Kinetic Energy booster has been allowed, OR an additional weight of 25kg, a movable rear wing, new tyres which fall apart after 15 laps, changes to the dimension of the cars (again), and the list goes on. Now I can hear you thinking so they are Formula 1 teams that is what they do … right? Now consider the technology space, what if Regulators suddenly decided that the frequency used by mobile operators or the signalling in Networks would be changed from year to year, or even better policy for Voice handover or that Network interconnects had to offer the end user a choice of which network they could roam onto using a NEW Internet Protocol (for the techies out there and no I am not plugging IPv6.)
How long would it take for the technology industry to adapt? 6 months? A year? Longer? Consider the upheaval that Millennium Bug brought about, these were transformational programs and I am sure many businesses internally are hoping not to have to do that again! I have read with some interest the articles posted by Technology magazines that Telecom operators need to change their business models, I would challenge though that the Technology industry as a whole needs to consider new ways of working AND new business models.
The world around us is changing and the ability to adapt to that change will be crucial, I believe that the next two to three years will see innovation cycles significantly reduced as start-up and entrepreneurs alike find new vehicles to leverage and introduce their product/solution/idea to the market. The world we live in is digitally smaller than it has ever been with our friends, colleagues and supply chain reachable through the richest and most diverse communication mediums ever seen.
Change is upon us, it is now a question of when we will notice and how we respond, we are currently in a Push frame of mind when it comes to Innovation Acceleration, we need to start adapting for a new wave of Innovation which will “Pull” businesses kicking and screaming, to the point that for many organizations it will be a case of Adapt or Die, which do you choose?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

An Acquisition too far?

Before anyone asks no- this is not to do with Anzac day or any linkage to a movie, this is all to do with need to change the business model to meet the needs of the customer. Traditionally we have seen businesses leverage an ecosystem for those elements that were regarded as being out of reach of their business model or simply deemed too unique to replicate. I mention this because some large global technology companies have looked at these Ecosystem’s to define their acquisition strategy to ensure they could truly meet the holistic requirements of the customer. Some of these leading technology businesses truly excel at technology acquisition to the point that I have stood with admiration at their aggressive approach to ensure accelerated integration in order to maximize the investment made.

Interestingly we are now seeing that some of these global technology companies are reassessing their portfolio’s as they begin to realize the “All things to All people” is increasingly impossible due to the acceleration of the Innovation curve (I have mentioned this in a previous article), the time line between the innovation leaders and the laggards and the resulting long tail has dramatically shortened from years to – in some cases – months. This significant shift in the innovation cycle has meant the ROI period that businesses could normally consider for an acquisition is now considerably shorter. Hence the traditional Ecosystem is potentially feeling left out in the cold as what was once used to look at for acquisitions is now increasingly regarded as risky and more likely to be replaced by a more recent solution than ever before.

However I believe that the business ecosystem is finally about to fulfil its true potential and in doing so become an innovation and business enabler to all. Let me explain, many businesses have always looked at the Ecosystem as a means to deliver a wider breadth of services to their customers and when significant opportunity arose, establishing close working partnerships or potential acquisition/merger discussions. However what some companies have now realized though is that in attempting to meet the ever evolving needs of their customers, they have lost the focus on their core capability, what is their DNA as opposed to the consolidated DNA of others.

What are we known for? What are we great at? Which partners can we work with to be even greater in the eyes of our customers? All of these questions will assist in redefining the role of an ecosystem to strengthen a particular business capability as opposed to seeking to merely add another service offering. Businesses need to first understand what they are or can be great at and then define the limits of that focus and only then to consider how they strengthen that capability through partners. The addition of any partner should have one purpose, make your offering even better, not necessarily broader.

But what brought this about; I mean everything was moving to IP right? It was to be the ultimate convergence of networks, services and platforms all onto one common infrastructure, surely this was always going to lead to large technology firms offering a broad selection of offerings. However the convergence to IP has introduced a whole new suite of products and services, think about the Enormous choice of Communication and Business tools available today through Application stores, Social Networking and even Vendors, I am not even talking about your traditional Service Provider or Online portal, who have again their own unique offerings. Now Many traditional technology businesses see these changes as threats and will seek to confront them, but consider Sun Tzu’s famous phrase “The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend”, are these new wave businesses really a threat or have they found a niche which they can serve better than anyone else and through partnership or a broader richer ecosystem could actually strengthen your own offering. This type of partnership would then allow your business to lead your market competitors delivering you growth and recognition as a business innovator through adapting to the new world and … for me the time of Acquisitions solely for business expansion is coming to an end, the acquisition will still be there in the form of strengthening a business’s own core capabilities, however the focus will shift to Ecosystem’s to provide a new way of working, an exciting time and opportunity for all of us. We can cross that last bridge, but it will be in order to get to the other side in one piece and stronger than when we started the Business Ecosystem will be the key.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Your Identity as a Number but not the one you think!


Some of you may have heard the growing interest in IPv6 which is the 6TH version or release of the Internet Protocol which underpins how the Internet and our increasingly IP based communications work. I can already hear people switching off thinking, ok here we go another in depth technical article – well I promise you it is not, but in the words of a friend of mine I will endeavor to keep this as straight forward as possible. The main reason to introduce the new Internet Protocol is to ensure there are sufficient IP addresses available as more devices are connected – particularly with increased traffic between machines (e.g. your power meter at home and the power company’s monitoring system – yes it is happening). What is interesting to note is that IPv4 provided us with just under 4.3 BILLION IP addresses (IPv6 will provide us with a mechanism to have up to 340 undecillion IP addresses by the way – and yes that is a real number!), and apparently we will run out in 6 months, which would mean that unless we expand the number of IP addresses the Internet and the current number of IP based devices as we know it will stop growing. Every device that connects to the Internet needs some form of unique identifier which happens to be the IP address and once we run out we can no longer add further devices  – I don’t believe this by the way, I am aware of a number of Service Providers who still have extensive numbers of IP addresses unallocated, if we wanted to maximize the existing platform all you would have to do is limit Service providers to only having a 10-15% buffer above their active allocation and then manage the remaining IP address allocation through the Internet Registries … ok enough jargon, I promise!
The main reason I am interested in IPv6 is what it will mean to all of us as individuals. IPv6 introduces the concept of greater flexibility to the user in retaining your IP address allocation irrelevant of which provider you use or platforms you access. Consider for a moment the changes that were brought about by Number Portability, for the first time we were able to change mobile provider and still stay in touch with our friends and colleagues without having to inform everyone in our address books that we had changed numbers. With the introduction of IPv6 we are about to see a similar occurrence but this time for our IP based identity. When you change company you change IP address, or IM log-in and your desk phone, just because we move, change jobs or even move house why should we have to rest all of our communication and social media identities. What I mean is think about having a single identity for your desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile and that once you log in all of the communication, social network and other applications you use would be adapted to that device but still with one log in for all. At the moment we have different identifications such as email, phone numbers, social networking id’s, application id’s and so on, but if we each had a unique identifier that stayed with us no matter which supplier we chose to use for connectivity then we could choose how we communicate rather than the limitations of the application or tool we would use at any one point in time.
We talk about intelligent networks for prioritization of traffic and this concept of a single identity would finally be able to maximize this potential. Visualize for a moment that you decide how you want to communicate with someone, they send you an email but you decide to call them back, you don’t look up a phone number you simply select response type and call the person, because they have a single identity for ALL communications. The network then identifies that you are trying to call rather than email and because of the quality of connection required to make a voice call prioritized your connection. Alternatively the person is away from home or office and prefers to be contacted by IM or text, the platform could inform you that these are the only options to contact the person at this time unless you would like to leave them a voice message which would be converted to text or sent as a voice file to the end user. There are numerous scenarios that we can consider here, but mainly it allows us all as individuals to interact and engage with the environment around us in a nimble framework all using one identifying number. The next step in this process is that we will be oblivious to the actual number on a day to day basis, as this will be automatically assigned to any new application or tool we decide to use. Similar to Skype and other applications today we search each other on Name or Nick name rather than by a specific number. Our network of contacts would be based on who we want to communicate with not what numbers they do or do not have.
The final part of this puzzle is the resulting competition, with a growing number of countries seeking to provide National Broadband Networks under a separate operating entity to Service Providers and Operators, the choice of providers for these services would be limitless as we would be able to retain our IP address which would form the essence of our identity. With virtualization
Now some of you will read this and say, interesting concept but we are years away from realizing this at the moment, well I can tell you it is closer than you think. I have seen a number of applications that are already working to promote multiple device, multiple communication options with a single log in and profile … at the moment this is not as attractive and smooth as it could be, but I am confident that we will soon see an increasing trend to IP based communications and device agnostic platforms that will make our lives simpler and create a new market for cross functional services identifying you as the unique user and no longer each and every one of your separate identities.
Hence yes we will be identified with a number, but not your mobile number an IP address, and to think all of this will be due to the fact that we are about to run out of IP addresses, a classic case of a cloud with a silver lining! J

Monday, 7 March 2011

Honey They Shrunk the Broadband!


Broadband on our Mobile phone – like WOW! I still remember accessing the Internet through a 64kbs line, now we have mobile operators offering internet at speeds of up to 20Mbps (and in some cases more!) - well at least they were!
Mobile Broadband has become the latest craze for all parties:
  • Operators have latched onto Broadband as the source of new wave growth to offset the slowing growth of their SMS and MMS platforms.
  • Mobile manufacturers can’t churn out mobile devices fast enough to meet the take-up for the latest gadget, tool, and function that end users are screaming out for.
  • Content providers are also realizing the opportunity to drive new wave revenues, across what is very much an open platform with few controls.
  • The working man/woman now is able to have a virtual office with all of their business tools and applications coming to them rather than having to find a Internet Access point.
  • Generation Z – who have finally found a way to surf the web, chat and socialize without their Parents looking over the shoulder.
Interestingly enough it is the Mobile Operator who is increasingly becoming the frustration of all the other groups. With demand for Broadband access accelerating faster than what many Operators, Analysts and even regulators had expected!
The dynamics have changed though, the business cases that many operators used to justify investments were developed using a similar traffic growth pattern as had been seen by the SMS traffic forecasts. This approach would seem sound particularly given the fact that SMS was initially not predicted to grow at the initial rates that it did. However Mobile Broadband has now become second nature to many businesses as well as Generation Z subscribers. The outcome being that Mobile broadband traffic has grown at more than 10 times the forecasted figures. This development is placing operators in a complex predicament; budgets which were originally allocated for use through a 5 year return on investment expectation are being utilized within the first 6-12 months of launch, with the result impacting operator cash flows, market credibility and customer satisfaction.
Of course it is easy to look at the Mobile operator and claim they should have simply anticipated for this, but you need only to look at the demands of Internet based service providers and they are clearly contributing to the challenge. The view of some Internet providers is that Mobile operators should provide open networks with no control on content OR utilization by any user, offers significant risks to viable commercial models. This is basically impossible, capacity is not infinite, and with this approach the costs for subscribers would go through the roof, because despite all the promise of advertising, content adaption the subscriber will ALWAYS pay.
Therefore it is necessary to completely reassess the model for internet usage for Mobile networks. Internet based providers need to understand that their relationship with Mobile operators is Symbiotic and the Operators as well as the internet based providers that are most likely to succeed will be those that embrace this relationship and seek to leverage off of each others strengths while trying to highlight their risks and challenges.
Operators should consider a positive re-enforcement model similar to that being used in some European countries in driving environmental policy. Consider an approach of penalty and reward to the environmental policy, if you drive a car which is generating pollution above a certain level then you will pay higher road tax, if however you  are driving a hybrid car which produces less than the average pollution per car then you will pay less tax. Similarly for utilities in the home, if you use less than the average for your household or make use of alternative energy sources such as Wind and Solar then you will receive credits back from the government through your utility bill.
A comparable model could be used for Mobile Broadband, if you are using the broadband connection on your mobile during peak hours (say from 8am to 9am and from 5pm to 7pm then you will pay a premium for excessive usage above a determined average, however if you use your mobile outside of these hours then you will receive credits to your mobile bill. Traffic across a mobile network is similar to any network in the world today, there are times of peak usage which stretches the capacity of the network and likewise times of utilization where there is minimal usage, the challenge that operators face today is how to encourage that balance without impacting the user experience. Business users for example would see the value in knowing they can access corporate applications, email and voice calls during peak hours and would most likely be willing to pay for it IF there was an SLA determining a certain performance (I know I would!). Likewise for the non-business users, if you knew you would pay less for using your mobile broadband outside of these peak hours and that the user experience would be better, hence it is likely you would be more willing to actually
New market competitors want “Free of Charge” open networks, whilst Operators want to charge for content and services which they feel they would traditionally have offered themselves. The needs of each group are unique BUT interdependent, Internet based providers can get greater access to the end user if they accept that there must be some revenue sharing on content and services provided through the operator. Likewise Operators need to recognize that through virtualization and increasingly through globalization, the physical distance between the provider of services and the consumer is less relevant and that in order to succeed an ecosystem of partners will be crucial to their future success.
Clearly there is no singular solution in balancing the demands of the various stakeholders in Mobile broadband. The first step however must be to communicate and engage with the ecosystem around you to ensure that the old formula of 1+1 really does equal more than 2, otherwise I fear that internet based Providers and Mobile Operators could be headed for a new Internet Bubble the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. If a balance cannot be found the result WILL be out of control network costs, Content increasingly inaccessible, and a disillusioned customer base, resulting in an increasing likelihood of some operators and internet based providers over stretching and facing acquisition or bankruptcy as investors realize their investments are increasingly at risk.
So Honey, yes they are Shrinking the Broadband, HOWEVER through partnership and acceptance of the need for positive reinforcement we can actually achieve an improved user experience and more importantly greater acceptance of Mobile broadband from the wider mobile demographic which MUST be the one goal which both Operators and Internet Providers can agree on … right?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Too many devices?

Instead of writing another article this month I figured I would share an news piece from Channel News Asia looking at the impact of the new choice of Tablet's which are becoming widely available ... stay tuned for a new article next week!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghJKU9XZqHI

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

If nothing is Rocket Science, then what’s left?

One of the most common phrases I hear in business today is “It’s not Rocket Science”, this has become the most common method of telling someone they should just understand what you are explaining to them. Think about it – how often have you heard someone say “It’s not rocket science people – get on with it!”, I would challenge though that we are increasingly using this an excuse for not understanding the capabilities of the people around us or to avoid having to potentially expose our own lack of knowledge on a topic which could highlight we are equally unaware of. I often wonder have we gone too far with the use of this term, and have we potentially reached a point where we are over simplifying the linkages between Business and Technology.

Let me share an example with you, I met up with a CTO a short while ago who was sharing his annoyance about the businesses inability to understand why it was complicated to establish a centrally hosted virtual Unified Communications center. The business owner apparently had the expectation that it should be ready to go within three months, which the CTO of course found ultimately frustrating; his frustration was only heightened when the business owner told him he did not understand what was so hard about it … “it’s not Rocket Science”. At this point the CTO looked like he was about to explode, I then asked him how he trained the business unit teams in the use of the IP Phones, to which his response was “What do you mean train? It’s not …” he suddenly realized what he was about to say but caught himself. I then asked him was it more to do with an expectation of you know so they should know it, which in turn created an expectation from the Business owner who assumed that if the IP Phone was child’s play then establishing a virtual Unified Comm.’s platform should be a walk in the park! (They are still trying to deploy the solution today!)

This is what brings me to the second part of this article, have we reached a point where we are over simplifying the technology that is allowing businesses to be increasingly agile and drive further innovation and growth? I recall being told a few years ago by a Marketing Manager that technology leaders were overcomplicating the solutions they were trying to sell/deploy with businesses and that what was required was a business outcome approach. We quickly got on board with that approach and started focusing on business outcomes, unfortunately to the point of regarding the technology that addressed those challenges as mere products you might buy off a shelf. Consider for a moment, the terms of Cloud Computing and Unified Communications, most people are familiar with what these solutions “could provide a business”. Let’s look at one solution – Unified Communications – this solution requires the real time integration and seamless interworking of a Voice, Video, Chat, Email, Address book, Calendar and Presence tool set. To give you a comparable view imagine trying to integrate your TV, Wi-Fi, Skype, Instant Messenger, your personal calendar and your phone to all work through your TV – sounds great right?  (I can already see the reactions of some of the Tech experts saying been there done that! ) but equally it seems very complex right? Well this is similar to deploying a FULL Unified Communications solution; to the expert this is a series of logical steps to the rest of us it really does look a lot like Rocket Science!

Of course at this point there is the so what question? Does it really matter that we are over simplifying technology and what it means to each of us and how we engage with each other on the topic of technology? YES! If you can recall a previous article I wrote on Business versus Technology then we are at a cross roads of corporate tech-culture and the need in balancing technology with the business model a business is actually seeking to drive forward. It is VERY important that we have a business culture of understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, for example there is a reason we hire Engineers to be Engineers and Account Manager to be Account Managers these are specific requirements with specific expertise, of course that doesn’t stop either group challenging the other as to why they cannot understand something they consider to be so straightforward. If organizations could recognize this landscape and avoid the over simplification of technology - or even to that effect, Sales Processes or financial modeling – then an organization would be able to leverage the combined strengths of all functions within an organization . This would then ensure alignment across the business as to how technology would improve the efficiency, performance or agility of an organization. Thus creating a working environment embracing change through technology, rather than resisting it with the sole purpose of avoiding the difficult question as to why they don’t understand. Technology IS complex and despite the interfaces becoming easier to understand the successful execution of technology programs lies in the hands of the beholder, understand the experience and manner in which the users will leverage the technology and you have a foundation for a winning strategy.

So I ask the question again, if nothing is Rocket Science then what’s left? Apart from Rocket Science of course!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Changing role of the CTO – from Scientist to Negotiator

Historically we have looked to the CTO to provide us with the Innovation within a business, to be the thought leader looking at what is the next big opportunity or challenge to be addressed. In the past few years though, I have seen this role change where the CTO is increasingly called upon to provide the linkage between the needs of the business and capability of the IT team to support platforms, services and toolkits of the wider organization.
I began to ask myself when did this happen and what is or will be the impact of this development? The function of the CTO role evolved at around the same time as businesses stopped being led by the products and technology they were based on and starting being businesses driven by the business. I appreciate it may sound confusing to have a Business Managed by the business but let me explain, traditionally businesses have needed to develop their own tools and systems with which to support their products and services, this was to a large degree a Black Art which CTO’s and their teams were uniquely placed to develop and integrate in order to support their existing products and services. Consider the significant investments we saw in the past in Research and development linked with large integration budgets to actually make the platforms or products viable to take to market. However this model also restricted the business in terms of what it was able to achieve as the business growth was dominantly determined by what was made available from the Technology Office.
Today however numerous new sectors exist to fulfill this traditional CTO role – SI’s, Software Businesses, Bridging Platforms, all of which have meant that businesses can look at a best of breed solution combining a business’s own capability with the products and services it can leverage from its suppliers or partners. This development has brought about a change in defining the strategy, for me it is the evolution of the CIO and the growing urgency to meet the changing needs of the business in the face of globalization, competition and endless innovation.
I would in fact challenge that the abbreviation of CIO is now more likely to mean Chief Innovation Officer, with the role of focusing on the innovation that can assist in shaping the business from the processes to the systems used to support them. Likewise I would suggest that the CTO is now equivalent to the Chief Translation Officer, taking the strategy and requirements set by the business units and translating that into the ability to execute those requirements through a combination of the products and services of the business combined with the third party capabilities which have become an ever increasing role supporting the CTO with providing the business the solutions to address the ever changing business needs. The CTO is then responsible for balancing the needs of the business with the ability to execute on that requirement through to engaging the IT and development teams to ensure their engagement in the execution of the business needs.
Now I am sure there are a number of people who will read this and say “Our CTO is clearly still focused on Innovation”, however I would challenge you to look at the change in scope of your CTO. Do you find that your CTO is increasingly involved in business discussions as opposed to looking at the latest release of your product. As mentioned in the title of this article the CTO has evolved from a Scientist to Negotiator and that this is primarily due to the changing world we are working in. With technology advancement and globalization the insights and cross functional expertise of a CTO become invaluable to any business today. The CTO today remains a rare breed with the ability to work across business and technology challenges, a skill which is increasingly needed in a rapidly changing and innovative world.