In 2010, C. R. van der Hoven and Darwin College co-authored the paper, The role and contribution of the and Chief Technology Officer. The 243-page document noted that the CTO role came out as a response to new organisational demands on technology leaders in the 1980s.
Samantha Searle, senior principal analyst with Gartner, says the chief technology officer (CTO) of 2021 has four personas. He or she is a digital business leader, a business enabler, an IT innovator, and the chief operating officer of IT.
FutureCIO spoke to Vicky Abhishek who is the Group Chief Technology Officer for the Asia-Pacific operations of a global beverage brand.
What is the role of the CTO in relation to a business’ digital transformation aspirations?
Vicky Abhishek: Successful CTOs, in my opinion, bridge the gap between the chief information officers (CIOs) and the chief digital officers (CDOs) in the organizations. CTOs try and bring to life the transformation plans for business by making smart technology platform choices, creating nimble architectures to connect the eve-evolving data sources and data sets which are coming from all parts of the business, and to help generate effective business insights.
Last, but not least, providing solid IT execution and support for a seamless user experience both internally to the end-users as well as external stakeholders like customers and consumers.
As a CTO, what stood out as the most challenging (pick one) aspect of 2020?
Despite the limitations imposed on the organisation and the team across the region owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abhishek was surprised and pleased with the speed at which the team worked together.
“Collectively as technology leaders, we worked faster, covered greater distances in 2020 as compared to previous years.”
From implementing measures to ensure the safety of personal employees, to creating and executing disruptive innovations for the business, the adding of new channels for distribution and innovating across the product and services mix, disrupting the supply chain and the sourcing strategy for most of the companies.
As a CTO, what are the top 3 takeaways that can be gained from 2020?
Vicky Abhishek: 2020 was a great opportunity to accelerate many technologies-related changes.
“I personally believe we should never waste a crisis. I think we did that within my organization as well as in general across the industry.”
First, we all truly lived the agile ways of working okay we focused on pushing for progress as against perfection in real life right. This came initially as a forced outcome because of the pandemic environment. But slowly we all experienced how it was the most natural way to respond to this crisis.
Cross-functional teams across businesses came together to focus on work which matters the most build. And deliver a core version 1.0 solution within days, in some cases within hours, and then learn and reiterate it as we went along the journey.
All of this was displayed through the year across teams which are successful in deploying the technology solutions in their organizations.
I don't think any number of agile training or coaching or certification could have delivered this amount of learning at such speed.
I hope this continues in 2021 and beyond as well and becomes our default operating process for the future.
Second, we really focused on people and empowered them with the right technology and right tools at their hand to make the best decisions for the businesses. This empowerment was driven to the lowest level in the organization up to the front-line workers.
What typically happens is a lot of the digital transformation ideas ultimately boiled down to individuals executing them in the field. This year this was a big positive change and take away as well. The courage and the commitment displayed by them was truly magical to experience.
Yes, there were frameworks and guidelines laid out by organizations which also kept evolving as the pandemic evolved, as the social norms and guidelines from the community changed. All of that were successfully adapted across all levels of organization via technology platforms.
Everyone realized and experienced technology as a true saviour in pandemic times and leveraged it to innovate further.
Lastly, the business models were constantly under stress, they were evolving throughout the year, throughout the quarters, and as they unfold the technology choices that were made needed to be flexible as well.
Instead of planning large-scale, multi-year ERP-type implementation, large investments were put on hold for most of the organizations. The focus shifted to tools and platforms which add immediate value and solve immediate problems and challenges facing the business. These were easy to implement and somewhat also easy to exit if needed in future.
Successful CTOs build upon cloud as a service platform, link it up with a consumption-based and scaled IT contracts which can go up and down based on how the quarters unfolded last year.
“We created an API-centric middleware architecture focused on making the right data available to right stakeholders with speed and accuracy.”
Which technologies do you believe will offer the most promise (deliver sustainable impact) to businesses in 2021 and beyond?
Vicky Abhishek: First, we are experiencing a massive data revolution which is primarily enabled by digital commerce. Data is the new arms race for this decade. Organizations are now racing against each other to get more data about different aspects of their business, of their customers, of the supply chain, of their manufacturing, how they are distributing products, what are the different preferences of their customers – new consumers which they are not addressing needs.
"Successful companies will come up with an end-to-end strategy for collecting, analysing and reporting data relevant to their products and services. They will extend their product experience virtually. Also innovating new products and solutions based on that data which they are gathering."
This underlying e-commerce and digital transactions will, in part, fuel this data explosion. It has been fuelling it for last few years. It’s just been magnified tremendously in 2020 when we saw a huge uptake on e-commerce, on digital ordering, on digital supply chain and delivery, including things like touchless delivery and so on.
The pandemic saw that these things go to tier-two, tier-three locations, rural locations. It also added new category items like grocery, online medical consulting, online education, virtual equipment servicing. These are the some of the areas which added last year. Everything went online during the pandemic year.
These will continue to grow wider and deeper as 2021 shapes across economies and social tiers.
Second, using virtual collaboration and the tech-enabled remote working got super accelerated in 2020. I think as we move further away from 2020 there will be some balance restored between in-person and virtual collaboration. But the cognitive bias for virtual collaboration and remote working is now permanent. It will also impact how organizations source IT talent across the regions.
Another is low-code, no-code software revolution. This was heating up in 2019, we saw some small progress in 2020. But as we get out of 2020 and move forward, I do see that it will come back stronger and set up new democratized software and automation application development capabilities at a large scale, similar to how our smartphones changed our world forever.
Cloud remains a huge influence in both IoT world as well as stronger edge computing, with key enablers like 5G coming into reality across multiple markets.
We will see much more hyper automation, HMI improvements, bots and automated customer service. All of these things will gain momentum as we come out (of the pandemic) strongly.
Lastly, the underlying information security threats and controls also need to be reviewed. The pandemic highlighted the increased number of cyberattacks, ransomware threats. They grew more sophisticated and the disruptions were larger and deeper in the organizations because of these attacks.
As we grow the tech capabilities and fuel business transformation plans, IT leaders need to keep a close eye on overall infosec controls and take concrete steps to secure data, the business processes and systems as well.
What is your one wish for 2021?
Vicky Abhishek: I wish everyone a very safe and healthy times ahead of us. We have been in this pandemic long enough to experience various aspects of it over the last 12, 15 months. I don't think we have come out of it fully.
I still feel we may have a somewhat start-stop kind of year ahead of us with various countries, regions and communities making decisions as they are in different stages of the pandemic recovery locally.
"As a technologist, I sincerely hope we further crystallize the new agile ways of working, drive more adoption of modern tools and platforms, including cloud, 5G and so on which deliver higher value in a relatively shorter time frame to the business."
There were many other things which Abhishek, shared in the podchat. Click on the podchat player to listen to his experience and the wisdom of the group of professionals that worked with him in overcoming the challenges of 2020.