Leading an organisation through disruptive crises as a CTO — Gartner

Large scale crises that impact an entire organisation, such as economic downturns or the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, regularly result in either short-term thinking or inaction within a business that can severely undermine strategic priorities. During a time of disruption, technology leaders including chief technology officers (CTOs) must lead their organisations through the time of trouble by appropriately responding to the impacts it is making.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic, as an example, has put huge pressure on enterprise architecture and technology teams to adapt to a remote working set up while facilitating employee collaboration, client and partner communication, and most importantly ensuring everything remains secure and safe. This has impacted companies with an incredibly short-term frame for decision making, and for many this has resulted in quick fix solutions as opposed to investment and innovation initiatives that allow sufficient growth for post-crisis challenges and opportunities.

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Here and now

Global CTOs have been challenged to respond to the disruption of COVID-19 and had to make long-term decision in a short timeframe while under mass pressure. Having a framework that maps out the potential scenarios that could come out of the pandemic, and multiple options to respond to, can help when it comes to swift thinking.

Examples of important swift actions that CTOs should prioritise are keeping employee safety. CTOs should also be working closely with HR leaders to support policies that protect the welfare of employees, and questioning whether prior or new investments in technology can help to mitigate employee safety risks.

Employee productivity is another key area for urgent consideration. As a CTO, you stand at the helm of a team that is crucial for enabling successful communication and ensuring that any technology implemented becomes a benefit to productive work.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to short-term evaluations a technology leader has had to make during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders have also looked at the resilience of their IT infrastructure, how customer experience has been impacted and how all of these changes have affected the innovation pipeline.

Ahead of the curve

Going forward and what has become clear is that organisations must strive to become future-fit. They need to actively prepare to respond to actions and anticipate change. Three traits, I believe, are key in a future-fit organisation:

• Being adaptive and flexible by willing to take on risks for long-term growth and employee and customer/safety benefits, even if it could decrease current profits

• Leveraging strategic use of technology and information to gain a competitive advantage

• Anticipating the new normal and identifying opportunities and threats to keep ahead of change

The pandemic has exposed many organisations, some for being more prepared than others and this has resulted in a variety of different impacts felt. CTOs within a business should be stepping up and upholding the idea that survival in a turbulent environment is a number one priority, while other companies, industries and the world altogether are being thrown into turmoil.

And where survival must be the top priority, CTOs must prepare for revival, rebuild and renew so that further down the road they are no longer leading organisations that are simply surviving, but are actively thriving.

CTOs should adopt continuous foresight to review and test business strategies, adjusting and tweaking as necessary to ensure they are placing their organisation in the most resilient place it can be. The idea of continuous foresight must be a leadership mindset rather than a one-off tool. Looking beyond hype, technology leaders must use discipline and planning to identify and assess trends and projections. Succeeding in a disruptive future will mean constantly looking for and responding to disruptions that could undo all the transformation that they have worked so hard to achieve.

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Laying the foundation

We do not know what the future holds, and whilst we can’t pinpoint when we may be out of this current crisis we can almost be certain that there will be road bumps ahead.

CTOs should look to the COVID-19 pandemic as a learning opportunity to always prioritise technology investments that ensure employee safety and business continuity, enable productivity, provide a robust and adaptable customer experience and can above all, deliver swiftly.

Finally, CTOs should identify which technologies, products, trends and/or services are going to succeed in the post-COVID world and place their money wisely so they can prepare to thrive.

Written by Marty Resnick, senior research analyst, Gartner

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