The diary of a CTO

By Mat Clothier

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Balancing the joint responsibility of ensuring the overarching technology infrastructure is maintained and encouraging business innovation is a challenging task for chief technology officers (CTOs). This challenge is compounded by the fact that the chief executive officer (CEO) will place pressure on CTOs to innovate in the business and prioritize the large-scale investments that make a visible difference.

However, this focus leaves the critical background projects at the end of the priority list and can result in catastrophic consequences. Simply dressing up a crucial underlying system with new layers won’t address any core issues that arise with the technology, and a vulnerable business-dependent legacy system that’s broken beyond repair or compromised could lead to costly downtime, which should be of great concern to CTOs. In fact, figures by Statista show that the cost of one hour of critical outage averages between $301,000 and $400,000, with the risk of downtime growing as cyber threats such as ransomware continue to expand.

Daily challenges and the collective mindset

This challenge is representative of the everyday hurdles that CTOs need to traverse. When budgets are drawn up, it’s easy to put the background processes, such as 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 during this period 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.

Those involved with technology are also agents of change by nature, leading them to focus more on the big technology integrations. However, 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 expectations placed on CTOs are also adding new pressures. 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.

In the case of effective action not being taken, CTOs may look for comfort by analyzing other companies and the legacy technology they have in place, knowing that they’ll suffer the same consequences if something goes wrong. But it’s a way of thinking that they ultimately can’t afford to rely on.

Looking at the small picture

CTOs should look at the small processes alongside the bigger picture to ensure their organization’s stability. 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.

To enable the highest levels of visibility and control, CTOs have an established set of security measures to benchmark their IT suite against by working from the Center of Internet Security (CIS) guidelines, which allows them to pursue a continuous improvement strategy by achieving the 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-premise, hybrid, or cloud system without the need for any code modifications.

An evergreen approach

When it comes to the IT suite, any essential fixes aren’t a singular event. CTOs may oversee a project that involves an application, server, or system being brought up to date and then consider it complete once this has been achieved. But this will inevitably lead to issues once again further down the line after a certain number of years. The key is to take a holistic approach and adopt a range of tools to enable constant maintenance and encourage evolution.

With buzzwords filling the IT industry, some CTOs may follow a breaking trend until the next one comes along. It’s critical to shift away from this mindset and adopt an ongoing reinvestment cycle in the organization. By doing so, CTOs will be able to effectively balance the tasks that keep the business running effectively and the new blue sky developments to further the business, as part of a wider evergreen approach.

About the author

Mat Clothier is the CEO of Cloudhouse

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