The CTO role: ‘It’s about planning and business opportunities’

“For me, it’s about planning and business opportunities,” says Greg Hanson, describing his role as CTO at Informatica.

Every CTO role is different, and in this case, Hanson, focuses on the sales side of the business, whereas other CTOs are more concerned with the development of products.

“We have some very intelligent people in our product management division who look after the actual development of products. So I’m not on the product side. I’m more on the sales side,” says Hanson.

His responsibility centres around making sure he finds out how Informatica’s prospects and consumers use the company’s technology. He needs to understand their challenges, governance and compliance issues as well as the pressures in their marketplace and how they need to leverage data to be successful and competitive.

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“It’s really my job to try and collect that information, and think about innovative uses for our products as they currently exist, and what type of initiatives we should try and help our prospects and customers with,” explains Hanson.

“It’s also then about defining the strategy for the future: Where should Informatica really spend our R&D dollars to have the greatest impact over the next 5 years. That’s really what I focus on day to day.”

A background in technology: Key to success?

The majority of CTOs have backgrounds in technology, and this is crucial to success.

Originally, Hanson was a developer and then moved into being a consultant on software. This provided him with a really good grounding in how to build products. “But, I was never the best at coding, to be perfectly honest,” he says.

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However, a background in technology is not the most important factor in succeeding as a CTO.

“One of my strengths and skills was always the ability to translate a business initiative or a business imperative into a requirement for how we should develop software solutions,” he continues.

This ability to translate something technical into something business-relatable (for the board) is pivotal to the role of the CTO — the most important trait one can have in any industry.

“This stood me in great stead, the ability to translate business requirements and initiatives into products and projects that helped to meet those business requirements,” explains Hanson.

Innovation and agility

Informatica is a enterprise cloud data management company, and in his role as CTO, Hanson experiences some traditional challenges surrounding the volume and variety of data, and increasingly how it’s encroaching on the world of governance

Another typical challenge is the inherent pressure that exists between a business user and how IT can help support the business initiatives in moving forward. “That’s increasingly becoming a hotspot of friction in certain businesses, because it’s imperative to have the agility to onboard new social media themes,” says Hanson.

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Businesses need that agility. They need movement to the cloud to keep themselves competitive in the modern framework. At the same time, businesses need well-governed data in order to maintain compliance with regulators, and in order to make sure that they don’t lose the trust and faith that consumers place in them.

Success and overcoming challenges as a CTO is the ability to “walk a fine line between the pace of innovation and the agility that is required, and keeping good governance and data, while making sure we don’t alienate the consumer base,” explains Hanson.

It’s all about the data

“Increasingly, the role of CTO is now all about the data,” according to Hanson.

“I would say five years ago, it was more about the technology and the conversations I was having were more around what flavour of technology we needed to adopt. It was VM virtualisation or Cloud 1.0 (software to services and infrastructure to service).”

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“I think those technologies are now so entrenched and embedded in many organisations.”

“The impact of governance has really made companies start to recognise that they need to put data as the main priority before everything else.”

The data and the data strategy need to align with decisions about whether an organisations should go for a public cloud, a private cloud, software as a service, and even what type of AI should be integrated. Data has become the centre of everything.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.

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