10 June 2012

The Changing Role of the Technology Leader

Infoworld has recently taken a view at How will the CIO's role change by 2020 which was followed up with discussion on linkedin.  I found the article more focused on taking a guess at changing technologies more than changing roles so I decided to take a crack at how I see the role and related skills changing (or staying the same) over the next 5 or so years for technology leaders (CIOs, CTOs, et al):

1. Technical innovation skills.  For companies where technology doesn't enable them to differentiate or compete in the marketplace (that is, no technology development just technology enablement), the technology role will be less critical and demoted to a lower position in the organisation and led by a more operational tech leader.  In companies where technology is developed in a unique way to compete and create value, the role should stay at an executive level and require more innovation and advanced business skills.  Technology innovation leaders will need to know how to speed up rate of change, decrease the costs resulting from rapidly changing requirements and how to scale.  Separation of innovation vs non-innovation business types and resulting change of roles underway now and continuing for the next few years.

2. General technical skills vs other business skills.  Technology leaders aren't business leaders, P&L owners or product managers, otherwise they would be in one of those roles.  They are at the leadership table to be the experts on how technology can delight customers and enable and grow the business.  They fulfil P&L owner aspirations and create highly functional fulfilment envelopes around product and service owners.  This is no different than the HR or Finance leaders, each experts in their area servicing the needs of business line owners.  Similarly tech leaders need to be business savvy and communicate effectively by translating technology concerns to and from business ones.  No change other than non-tech leaders are becoming more knowledgable about tech resulting in increasing communications fidelity of tech concerns in the future.

3. Technical understanding of data security. Due to technical complexity, the technical leader will have to increasingly expand their knowledge of cybersecurity.  They will need the business acumen to strike a competitive commercial balance between flexibility and cost versus risk.  This means increasing knowledge requirements on the technical security side to effectively manage related staff and vendors balanced with sufficient knowledge on the commercial side to collaboratively determine an appropriate commercial balance.  Increasing rapidly the last few years and will continue to do so for some years.

4. Technical understanding of regulatory, legal and compliance requirements.  As nations increasingly understand and depend on the Internet there will be changes in regulations and taxation on Internet activity and supporting infrastructure.  Changes will continue to come from government, banking and infrastructure providers.  This is an area of risk management typically at board level and the technology leader must not get caught out by the changes.  Gradual changes on-going for last 10 years and will continue with occasional "surprise" activity spikes.

5. Ability to identify and remove non-core business and technical activity.  Business process analysis, service delivery, remote staff management and change management are assumed technical leadership skill sets.  Similarly outsource/offshore skills should already be standard for cost reduction and scaling access to talent.  These will increasingly combine in the future to remove non-core processes, products, and services from the business - not just for IT but across the business.  Crowd-sourcing and flexible staffing models will expand.  Changing rapidly for the last few years and will continue for some years.

6. Understand the management of a highly distributed and integrated solution.  Technology delivery continues to fragment requiring increasing expertise at sourcing, integration, and service delivery.  The technical leader must orchestrate different suppliers, a growing number of which are outside of the company and the technology leader's direct control through commercial/contractual expertise and building deep relationships.  Continuing to increase and fragment over time.

7. Budgeting in an opex world.  The technology leader will need to understand how pay-as-you go cloud models and how to transform an organisation dependant on capitalised project thinking into an opex oriented one.  Just starting to change and will accelerate rapidly for next few years.

8. Management of legacy systems and data sets.  The "cruft" of legacy systems and data repositories along with data retention driven by regulatory requirements continues to to expand cost inertia around the technology leader's responsibilities.  Hooking costs to business owners will help.  Knowledge of rapid legacy virtualisation, tiered storage technologies, and integration "envelope" architectural approaches will be required.  Long time problem and will rapidly worsen until better solutions and special-purpose outsource providers come into play in a few years.

9. Understanding of data architecture, access and reporting.  IT has become increasingly effective at monitoring and reporting on technology concerns, including monitoring of customer related data, and is seeing benefit to converging the data into a single reporting system.  Similarly the business has opted for separate and expensive reporting, dashboarding and bolt-on analytics further fragmenting the data.  Further compounding the challenge are cloud/SaaS solutions being sold "around" IT which will eventually need to be integrated and virtually consolidated using data aggregation.  Technology leaders will need to understand the organisation of data, it's benefits and how to make it pervasively and transparently available and what tools and data sets to converge on to enable the business to have a more consistent view of business results and customer activity. Many fragmented efforts underway now from different directions consolidating in the longer term.

10. Understanding and encouraging the use of collaboration tools that cross organisational and corporate boundaries.  As less technical staff learn to use collaboration tools technologists have been using for a long time, they will also increasingly access sources of outside information and informal networks to better compete in a global labor market.  Corporate borders will become increasingly porous and if managed well this proliferation of "commodity" information can be used to drive non-core activity out of the business. Becoming increasingly common and with usage increasing rapidly over the next few years.

The fundamental responsibilities of a technology leader such as people management, budgets, strategy, operations, and development all remain.  However, how most of them are done will see significant changes in the future.