The role of the CTO differs between smaller and large organisations. Some are product-focused, others are more business-focused. There are lots of different types of CTOs with different remits. What remains fairly constant, however, is that a CTO takes charge of their company’s overall technology strategy.
Leading the technology strategy
As is the case with many CTOs, Wignall’s role is varied. He has both internal and external responsibilities.
“At its highest level, I lead our overall technology strategy within the UK market. By sitting on the senior leadership team, I’m responsible for providing technology leadership and input there, to help drive our UK strategy.”
“I’m also responsible for articulating and evangelising that strategy to the market as a whole, across all of our products and customer segments and industries. So my job is very varied; I cover all of our technologies; setting the strategy but also helping take that strategy to market, by working with all of our specialists. That’s the external element.”
Internally, Wignall acts as the conduit for Microsoft UK’s corporate engineering teams, feeding back the customer requirements that are specific to the UK market.
For instance, he helped build the case for Microsoft’s investment in UK data centres a couple of years ago – based on customer feedback, and their desire to invest lots of money in extending their capability in the UK.
In a really all-encompassing position, there is one final thing that Wignall identifies as part of his role. And this lends itself to the responsibility of a CTO from a large organisation.
“I own the technical community within the UK,” he says. “So, while most of them don’t report to me, we have many technical specialists, engineers and consultancy services people. They sit in lots of different business groups. It’s my job to be the executive sponsor and the spiritual leader within the UK, and to help drive consistency and focus across all of those experts to make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction.”
‘Keeping up to speed’
The fast-paced, and changing nature of the technology industry means that “keeping up to speed” is really important.
For the CTO, however, “it’s not just about being technically proficient and keeping up to speed with the latest technology developments, it’s about being able to simplify them and articulate the key benefits or risks of those technologies, both internally to the core stakeholders that are helping drive the strategy and direction of the company.”
In order to succeed, the new, evolving role of the CTO will need to encompass both technical skills and business outcome skills.
‘My role today is very different to what it was 12 months ago’
Linking back to what it takes to succeed, “my role today is very different to what it was 12 months ago, and even 24 months before that. It is changing very quickly. So actually being on top of all the trends, and the latest capabilities across all of our products in all of the sectors that we work with is a challenge.”
On top of this, “being able to drill down and have a deep conversation about a specific technology with a customer or an internal stakeholder is also challenging. I have to navigate the two realms, the higher level broad focus view on what’s happening in the market and the industry, but also the deeper dive.That constantly keeps me on my toes: I need to be able to keep up to speed on my technology, but marry the overarching view with the in-depth technical knowledge.”
The CTO role will ‘change and evolve’
Based on this interview, and others, it is clear that the role of the CTO is constantly or very quickly changing. And this shows no signs of stopping. It will continue to change and evolve – much like the evolution of different technologies and continual innovation happening in different sectors.
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With the continued drive of digital disruption across all industries, there will be a need to continue to accelerate a strong technology strategy. And this will need to be led by the CTO.
“We’ll see customers needing to innovate through technology, organisations big and small being able to innovate through technology, and they’ll need a strong technologist. A technologist that can bridge the gap between the impact of that technology, and identify the business outcomes off the back of that, while communicating that to business leaders and help shape the strategy.”
“I do think the role of the CTO will become more important and more senior. For example, I have only been reporting to our Chief Exec for a little over a year; so that’s a relatively new change from a Microsoft UK perspective. And I think it will become more important to be able to navigate the business outcomes back to the technical outcomes.”
*At Microsoft, there are lots of CTOs. The global CTO, Kevin Scott, sits on the senior leadership team with Satya Nadella. Michael Wignall sits on the UK senior leadership team, and reports to the UK Chief Executive, and his remit is to be the CTO for our UK subsidiary