CTO: The Tightrope Between Innovation and Operational Excellence

June 9, 2022 | 5 Mins Caitlyn Simons

A CTO has many responsibilities at a modern-day multinational company, and they often have to walk a tightrope between business innovation and operational excellence. Every company wants to appear innovative, progressive, and forward thinking, and they will want their digital technology and processes to reflect this mindset. It will be down to the CTO to deliver this.

But this person will also be asked to manage costs, optimize processes and internal resources, and deliver operational excellence. It is never simply a matter of throwing money at something, there are a lot of moving parts so careful consideration is needed.

In this article, we will look at how a CTO can attempt to walk this tightrope, introduce innovations while still meeting cost management and operational responsibilities.

Automate to innovate

Automation is becoming more utilized and popular as it covers off what many people are looking for, the introduction of digital innovation while simultaneously phasing out legacy technology stacks and outdated processes which no longer fit with the company mindset and business models.

While a little bit of resistance may exist towards automation technology and robotics, the general mindset is turning towards the obvious advantages that are associated with it. Automation can significantly contribute to process improvement- things simply become faster, more accurate and more streamlined when automation is introduced to take over from previously manual or non-digital tasks inside core business functions or business critical service deliveries.

Examples of business departments where the benefits of automation technology can be seen include human resources, finance, and payroll. Robotic process automation initiatives can be introduced in these departments to take over administrative processes such as manual data transfers, form filling, file creations and invoice generation. It makes sense to apply digital robotics to these processes to speed up the manner in which they are being delivered and free up the time of the professionals who previously spent too much time focusing on these tasks and not enough time on other value add tasks for the business.

A chief technology officer can look to introduce a phased series of automation to several business-critical processes within the company, a bonus would be to introduce it in interconnected departments. That is, departments with related data flows who rely on each other’s data for things like reporting.

It would not be difficult to connect data flows and automate them between human resources, payroll, and finance for example as they would share a lot of the same data. Therefore, there would be wins for all three departments and clear improvements in process and service delivery, as this data would only need to be entered once and would remove the need for data to be duplicated.

Focus on security and resilience

When a CTO looks at areas like this, then they are moving away from the headline grabbing digital innovation processes that business leaders like to talk about publicly. But this is also the right thing to do, because if the security of the new processes and the resilience of the operational systems are not attended to in the correct way, then this will lead to trouble down the line and this trouble tends to become public too, and this may result in some unwelcome media coverage as well as a dissatisfied global employee base.

This is all part of the balancing act between operational excellence and digital innovation. Focusing on security and resilience is about making sure that any innovation that is introduced is of a high-quality and exists in a secure environment with the foundations in place for a sustainable future.

It is easy to move ahead and purchase new technologies while focusing solely on innovation and digitization, but if the foundations of security and resilience are not in place within the operational framework, then it will not be long before gaps appear, and people discover that there are barriers to the kind of streamlined processes and seamless cohesion that they want to achieve.

Information security, data protection and secure cloud environments will be at the core of this level of business resilience. Data breaches are to be avoided at all costs as they can be extremely damaging to business processes, result in significant financial penalties and create major reputational damage.

Looking closely at security and resilience within the operational framework will help the CTO identify areas for improvement, helping them create a stable base for the introduction of innovative technologies in the future that can best help them meet their business needs. As opposed to having to scramble and look for solutions after a security or resilience issue surfaces in the aftermath of a purchase of innovative technology.

Balance innovation with the fundamentals

A CTO can never take their eye off the foundations or fundamentals, even when being pressurized in their decision-making to deliver new and progressive levels of digitization across a range of different business units. They may have to contend with a strong call from leadership teams to push forward with digital transformation projects across several core business units, but they must not allow such projects to dominate their time at the expense of upgrading the fundamentals.

Core IT processes and infrastructure security will always be required to safeguard the performance of any new technology investment brought about by digital transformation. Upgrading IT and data security to reduce corporate risk should be a priority, but at the same time a CTO is likely to be tasked with introducing game changing innovation to a company’s hybrid and remote working capabilities, this might be a nod to the employee experience and how that is becoming so important when it comes to retention and engagement strategies for a globally dispersed workforce that is no longer attending the office on a regular basis.

A chief technology officer will be expected to contribute to new product innovation ideas but at the same time this person must balance this with a commitment to accelerating the move over to a cloud environment for non-product operational activity. It is a delicate balancing act, and the communication skills of the CTO will really be tested as this person will continually be required to communicate multiple different messages on an ongoing basis as they continue to walk the tightrope between innovation and operational excellence.

By introducing automation technology in order to innovate processes and systems, as well as taking the time to focus on your company’s security and resilience and finding this balance between innovation and not neglecting the fundamentals, then it may be possible to successfully walk this fine line that CTOs face around innovation and operational excellence.


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