Enterprise CTO Challenges in the Age of Digital Transformation

A panel of CTO’s sat down at a recent ONUG conference to discuss the top challenges facing their organizations in the age of digital transformation. This candid discussion between industry leaders provided insight into how their companies are tackling these challenges. You can watch their chat in its entirety here. Below are their top five hurdles plus insights from Don Duet of McKinsey & Co, Eric Reed of Cigna, Tsvi Gal of Morgan Stanley and Stephen Davy of Societe Generale. 

1. Culture 

The panel discussed the importance of a culture shift in a successful digital transformation. “Culture eats innovation for breakfast,” was a famous quote Duet brought to the discussion. The panel discussed the challenge of changing culture. While you can’t completely remake culture, it must be tuned in a way that facilitates the desired outcomes. Duet and Reed emphasized the need to develop a bottoms-up organization, one that encourages people to bring ideas to the table, resulting in a group of people that are comfortable with change.

“Culture will drive your success or failure,” emphasized Reed. “We’ve got a lot of smart people. I’ve never seen us not be able to overcome a tech problem.” However, Reed admits culture has been a stumbling block many times. 

Gal pushed back on the idea that a top-down management approach should be completely discounted. He emphasized that the behavior of the people at the top makes the difference. If they are true to their word and provide a consistent message, they can affect culture in a positive way. To do this, management must be open to criticism, even if it comes from peers they’ve worked with for decades. “Commitment, open-mindedness and clear goals” were three keys Gal pointed to. Get those right, and “the rest falls into place.” 

While company culture is one challenge, Davy focused on the challenge of changing the tech subculture. Digital transformation is essentially asking infrastructure people to change how they operate, who they interact with and the skill sets they possess to be successful and remain relevant. It’s a big ask. There is a lot resting on their shoulders. The participants mentioned earlier how easy it is to just “try again” if something fails. However, tech departments are expected to keep an industrial strength platform running. They must balance a shifting culture with constant expectations.    

2. Capabilities

Technology is now driving business instead of supporting it. Companies face the challenge of keeping an industrial-sized operation going while continuing to experiment forward. This requires a mix of skills and mindsets. Do organizations have the capabilities needed to compete in this new environment? Here’s what each participant had to say about their approach to this challenge. 

Davy acknowledged the importance of acquiring new talent that can help accelerate the transition of skills. Societe Generale helps this journey by organizing “Lunch and Learn” events, focusing on just one tech topic at each session. They bring in key experts on that topic from the outside, who are extremely enthusiastic, to motivate inside talent to make the leap to learning new skills. 

Gal noted that when he interviews new talent he evaluates them at three levels: skills, abilities and values. Skills can be learned. Abilities are harder to change, but can be. Values rarely change. If people have the right values to start with, they can evolve the right abilities and gain the right skills. 

Reed joined in from a different perspective, emphasizing the need to keep legacy skills around. “We need people who are good at both.” The challenge is having a team that can maintain legacy applications, work with what’s happening right now and think about what’s developing in the future. “We don’t have enough of those people.” 

Duet brought the discussion back to the role the CTO plays in creating opportunities for people to learn new skills. Creating advocacy and awareness is vital to the long-term growth of your organization. Assume people want these opportunities. 

3. Jobs            

As the digital transformation reshapes technology, org charts are shifting as well. Panel participants discussed how jobs within their companies have changed over the last five years, and how they will continue to shift.

Duet and Reed noted the effects of automation. Network command centers, as well as dedicated functions, operations and risk management have all changed as automated capabilities have expanded. Control functions are smaller, and more platforms teams are providing internal services. 

Reed agreed that automation is a major catalyst, but added that it has also changed the mindset. Instead of IT people labeling themselves as storage, network or computer people, they now think of themselves as an owner of a service. All members of an IT team must now think about how their services are being consumed. Agreeing with that assessment, Gal added that we’ve seen a decline in traditional project management. Tech must continue to work with the business side to remain agile and competitive. 

Davy predicts we will continue to see the gap between technology people and business people close. While some roles may go away, others may just shift. Focusing on governance will force organizations to examine their organizational structure. 

4. Cybersecurity

Davy and Gal lead the responses to security challenges. They noted that protecting the perimeter used to be the main concern. Now, IT security must be a function that is embedded within the entire application development mindset. The development environment used to be oblivious to security. DevSecOps has changed that focus, protecting against both intruders and honest mistakes. As IT got more complicated, so did the adversaries. Attacks have significantly increased in complexity. Machine Learning will continue to become a key part of protection, detection and recovery. 

5. The Rise of Digital Consumer

Running out of time, the panel was only able to get a couple brief comments from Reed and Duet on this challenge. They emphasized there is no longer a difference between the consumer experience and the industrial experience. Companies like Apple have set the bar high. Institutions are made up of individuals who will either like your product or not. Improving their experiences and changing our approach to problem solving is critical. 

ONUG is an international community of high level IT business leaders, sharing ideas and best practices. Learn more about how you can deliver digital transformation value to your organization from thought leaders. 

For more discussions like these, make plans to join us October 14-15, 2020 at Fall ONUG, taking place in New York and digitally online. For more information visit us at onug.net

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