Getting value out of technology — the CTO role

Mark Darbyshire, CTO, data and database management at SAP UK, helps explain his role, what it takes to succeed and his common challenges.

“My interests are very simple: I want my customers to embrace and use as much of our technology as possible, and obviously get as much value and happiness out of that” — Mark Darbyshire, CTO, data and database management at SAP UK

During our discussion on SAP’s role in organisational digital transformation, Mark Darbyshire also took the time to tell me about his role as a CTO.

It is complex and varied one.

A field CTO

There are many types of chief technology officer, but Darbyshire described himself as a “field CTO”. He spends most of his time with customers, attempting to understand their problems and suggest technology-based solutions to overcome them.

“Some of those conversations feed back into product and technology and to engineering and development, but a lot of it is really about helping customers understand how SAP technology can help them — most of what I do is probably consultative,” said Darbyshire.

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The challenge of disbelief

There are a number of standard challenges that a CTO will come across during his or her tenure.

There are challenges of perception, and sometimes there are challenges of disbelief. “We don’t think that big data or analytics is going to give us that much more benefit than we currently get, those sorts of things,” explained Darbyshire.

But, most of the challenges surround encouragement and embracing. According to Darbyshire, “encouraging people to bring forward their desire to digitally transform and become an intelligent enterprise, and giving them the confidence to realise that they can do this (and they will do this well) is a common hurdle”.

CTO advice

“Stay close to the business,” continues Darbyshire. “Remember that technology is an enabler and is not the end goal; the end goal is business benefit.”

Staying current is also important. And don’t get pigeonholed: “don’t just be good at APIs or process management; recognise that every process has data associated with it and every data activity has process associated with it.

“I think increasingly a CTO has to be an all-rounder; you can’t just have fantastic deep skills in one area. I think you’ve got to increasingly look at the whole life cycle.”

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Technology prediction

There are so many different technologies that Darbyshire struggled to identify a standout.

“Five or 10 years ago, people felt that languages had died because everything was being done in Java, but that’s changed. I think the technology that I’m looking forward to seeing this year is more about consolidation into platforms, rather than any one capability.”

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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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