SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - The role of the CTO requires the same approach as that of a tightrope walker. Reaching your goal requires careful steps to remain on the visionary path.
The rise of e-business throws CTOs a new set of challenges with which to deal.
In the past, CTOs at traditional, statically organized companies were mainly concerned with defining strategies that would yield shareholder happiness. The new dynamics of e-business demand skills on the part of CTOs that go well beyond profit and loss.
The role of CTO may vary slightly depending on whether your company is a start-up or a well-established organization. Nonetheless, there are 10 key traits that CTOs need to focus on to assure their success.
Know thy customer. That phrase sounds simple, but what do you really know about those who purchase your products or services? Monitoring customer transactions is only one part of the equation. Intelligence gathering that provides demographics, customer experiences, and nonsales events will give you a much broader sense.
Drive customer loyalty. Once you know who your customer is, the next key trait is to merge technology strategy and business practices that will bring customers back. For example, this may mean mining all customer interactions, including phone, e-mail, and sales, with your company so that you can more proactively give your customers what they want.
Invest in people. Nearly all CTOs I've spoken with say that hiring and retaining staff are their greatest challenges. Monetary rewards are only one part of the solution. Successful CTOs need to enable collaborative, dynamic organizations that provide employees with flexibility, mobility, and connections to corporate resources. This type of environment gives employees the tools and setting they need to really make a difference.
Three-way conversation. Open communication is another key trait. Many CTOs do well communicating at the boardroom level. However, the winning CTO enables conversation from the top down and from the bottom up as well as from the outside to the inside. Being receptive to new ideas that come from the lowest levels of the organization and communicating with customers when necessary will keep you firmly on the tightrope.
Lifelong learning. Continually educate yourself, your colleagues, and your staff. The dynamic e-business marketplace demands constant knowledge expansion.
Unleash innovation. Take acceptable risks and allow a certain amount of failure. Encourage your people to try new things and share what you learn from your failures. The successful CTO must be able to identify when a risk may potentially lead to an advantage.
Business vision. Obviously, the successful CTO has to have a firm grasp on corporate business objectives. But today's CTOs need to go farther than just knowing what their company wants to achieve. Market dynamics, fierce competition, and ever-changing technology demand that CTOs keep an eye inside and outside the company walls.
Technical adaptability. Because e-business includes many emerging technologies, successful CTOs need to formulate a technical framework that is loosely coupled. The strategies you choose should enable you to plug in technologies as they become viable. Technical religion is a surefire way to slip off the tightrope before reaching the other end.
Think green. Thinking green -- or environmentally -- may not seem like a natural success trait for a CTO. However, promoting the fact that your products and services are produced in an earth-friendly manner and establishing an organization that values the environment will go a long way toward gaining customer and employee loyalty.
Dynamic reinvention. Above all, successful CTOs must love change. Be ready to modify your business, organizational, or technical strategy on a dime. Those who can manage dynamic reinvention will win.
The role of CTO is a challenging, demanding balancing act that demands high-wire talents. Are there other traits you think make a successful CTO?
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Maggie Biggs is director of the InfoWorld Test Center.