Overcoming the challenge of disruption: The CTO responsibility

From Brexit to global politics, new technologies to regulation and governance, over the last few years there has been a general feeling of caution from businesses surrounded by disruption from all sides.

But it is not all doom and gloom, with change comes opportunity and there is a huge chance for businesses to embrace this opportunity. While there will still always be uncertainty in the market and elements beyond control these are exciting times to be in business.

In particular, the continued rapid advancement of technology is hugely interesting, especially in terms of automation and decisioning. There is also technology coming down the line that will really start to enable the connected homes that have been talked about for the last few years.

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Of course, all this new technology will continue to drive the disruption of traditional business models. The real challenge for businesses, and the great range of CTOs in particular, is in how to respond quickly, but appropriately to the disruption occurring around them so that they are able to harness the opportunities that change brings.

Workable innovation

Ultimately, what will drive business value is how organisations respond to change and this response needs to be both swift and appropriate. Organisations can no longer afford to think in three or five year cycles, the world is moving far too fast. As such, a huge cultural shift is needed where innovation is embraced across an entire business, not just in siloed pockets.

Traditionally, the CTO has not been automatically included in innovation labs within businesses, although they are then expected to deliver on whatever innovative approach or technology is decided on.

However, it is those businesses that can quickly spot when things are not working and try something else who will be the ones that triumph, and the CTO should be an integral part of this.

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While breeding a culture of innovation is key, it is also vital to have a carefully thought out business strategy and workable technology roadmap, to help guide innovation and avoid getting distracted. The CTO – regardless of which type or persona – can add real value here, educating key decision makers on new types of technology available and how they could be harnessed and also work with existing technology systems.

Know where you are now

A key element of taking a rapid and well thought out approach to responding to disruption, is knowing where your business is right now. Without this, it is extremely hard to plan where you want it to go. Time and again, there are organisations which have tried to adopt an entirely new business strategy, without first checking their existing operational model is fit for purpose. It cannot be stressed enough how vital it is to align strategic intent with your operational model.

The first step here is to conduct an audit of existing technology, systems and processes – something the CTO should ideally lead or be closely involved in. Many businesses are likely to have multiple systems in place, which are not being utilised properly. By closely examining the way systems, processes, tools and data presently connect (or fail to connect as the case may be), CTOs can help their organisations gather a clearer idea of where their strengths – and perhaps more importantly – their weaknesses lie.

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Having an in-depth awareness of current capabilities and position in the market can then help inform an overarching business strategy. While it is important for this strategy to be informed by internal factors such as an organisation’s current capabilities, it is absolutely vital that it is also based on external factors. Businesses need to ensure they pay close attention to what their customers are doing, and what their current and future wants and needs will be as well as closely watching the direction the market as a whole is taking.

Considering all angles and managing expectations

Another key area where CTOs can add value when responding to disruption is by looking at areas often overlooked by those eager to embrace the latest shiny new tech. CTOs – especially those that have a planning, product or business opportunity persona – have an important role to play in helping businesses avoid falling into the trap of taking knee jerk reactions to change, or being distracted by the latest ‘buzzwords’ in their market.

That is not to say that organisations should ignore innovations or new technologies that are on the horizon, in fact the very opposite is true. Smart CTOs will constantly investigate and evaluate new technology, they just won’t get distracted by it and will only invest in new tech when they have a clear idea of the specific challenge they want it to solve and what they plan to achieve with it. In addition, a good CTO will be able to look at things from all angles, such as considering the security implications of pursuing a new operational model or utilising a new type of technology.

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In helping to temper knee jerk reactions, CTOs can also help manage expectations from the senior leadership team in terms of what can be achieved and how quickly when it comes to responding to disruption. Big businesses in particular take time to change course. CTOs can advise on the best systems to implement and operational models to pursue to allow their organisation to become more agile.

Responding to pressure

Disruption can be challenging, especially when it comes (as it increasingly does) from multiple directions and embracing change isn’t always easy. CTOs with outward facing responsibilities are under particular pressure, not least because so much of responding to disruption falls under their remit.

By having a solid knowledge of where their organisation currently stands in terms of technology systems and operational models, a good idea of what it will take to ‘swing’ the business and respond quickly if needed, coupled with a wide view on where disruption, success is likely to come from and the ability to communicate well with the rest of the senior leadership. CTOs can add huge value in a disruptive world.


Sourced by Dan Telling, managing director at specialist consultancy MyBench


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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