Confessions of a CTO

Chief technology officers (CTOs) are typically juggling the joint responsibility of maintaining the organization’s overarching technology infrastructure and enabling business innovation. Many however will find themselves being tasked by the chief executive officer (CEO) to focus on the innovation side or, more specifically, the major blue sky technology investments which make a tangible difference to operations.

CTOs responsibility

This focus risks leaving critical background projects by the wayside and can lead to catastrophic consequences. Simply adding more layers to an onion that is past its use-by date will still result in a moldy center, and this is how critical underlying systems are often viewed and dealt with.

A vulnerable business-dependent legacy system that’s broken beyond repair or compromised could lead to costly downtime, and it’s a concern that needs to be taken seriously. A worldwide study of businesses in 2021 discovered that 44% of enterprises have hourly downtime costs that exceed $1m on average. In terms of cyber threats, ransomware is continuing to grow, with collective groups of threat actors working collaboratively to attack businesses.

This conundrum is reflective of the everyday tensions of modern CTOs. When budgets are drawn up, it’s easy to put the background processes (e.g., underlying servers or systems) at the bottom of the priority list. Businesses may not pay close attention to a system while it’s working, but without regular checks to pre-empt any future issues, it’s going to be harder to fix when it finally does break, with higher costs and more significant downtime.

Many technologists also are agents of change, which naturally leaves them looking at the bigger picture. As the pile of tasks gets bigger and more tasks are postponed to tomorrow, it’s becoming easier to push them to next week, month, year or even decade.

The evolving role of the CTO is also leading to greater pressure. As more businesses undertake digital transformation strategies, CTOs are expected to turn to leadership within the business and suggest solutions that will make an immediate difference. There’s also a greater focus on needing to know how technology affects the business and not just how it works in isolation.

CTOs may take comfort from the fact that companies across the board are likely to have legacy technology in place, and a sense of a shared collective mindset can set in from knowing that when things go wrong, it’ll be the same for others. But it’s a way of thinking that they ultimately can’t afford to rely on.

Sweat the small stuff

To truly ensure the organization’s stability, CTOs need to pay as much attention to the seemingly smaller tasks as they do the big transformational changes. This starts with having a rigorous diligent process by understanding where the business is today and looking in-depth for any weak spots. To do this, CTOs need to look towards the specialist solutions provided by the right vendor. Adoption of a configuration management tool can allow CTOs to have oversight of the whole IT suite, which is able to identify and track changes against a defined set of policies and flag any deviances for rectification.

Policies that are devised from the Center for Internet Security (CIS) guidelines mean that CTOs have an established standard of security measures to work with, facilitating visibility and control to make required changes and pursue a continuous improvement strategy by achieving best practice configuration. For critical legacy applications that need to make the successful move to a newer operating system version, application compatibility packaging can allow for them to be transplanted to an on-prem, hybrid or cloud system without the need for any code modifications.

The cycle continues

Making a critical fix to an element of the IT suite isn’t a one-time job. CTOs are typically overseeing projects that are implemented to bring an application, server or system up to date with the task, then considered complete. But doing so means that they can find themselves in the same boat after a certain number of years. It’s therefore critical to take a holistic approach and adopt a range of tools and solutions to ensure that continuous maintenance and evolution continues to happen.

The IT industry is also filled with trending buzzwords, and it leaves some CTOs following these trends until the next big thing comes along. The key is to move away from this mindset and adopt an ongoing innovation and reinvestment cycle in the business. This will enable them to balance both the new, exciting developments and keep the train on the tracks at the same time by overseeing the underlying critical processes as part of an evergreen approach.

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