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Another ‘new normal’? Five challenges CTOs will face in 2021

Another ‘new normal’? Five challenges CTOs will face in 2021 1

By Amit Dattani, Director of Technology at Conosco

We’re one year into the new decade, and arguably technology has guided the 2020’s so far. Chief Technology Officers (CTOs), responsible for taking ownership across IT networks, have faced new challenges as they spearhead the rapid adoption of a number of digital services.

CTOs have a lot on their plate. Many are responsible for managing production workflow, defining technology roadmaps and budgeting the cost of technology. However for smaller businesses, CTOs will also be responsible for leading the cybersecurity strategy, and defining the data protection guidelines.

We’re at an exciting time for innovation in the UK, and CTO’s need to provide sound technical leadership to the board and to employees. What challenges will CTOs need to overcome in their IT strategy for 2021?

1- Data compliance

After a number of GDPR lawsuits, there is growing concern over the state of business’ data handling. And post-Brexit, the ‘new normal’ will change again for data management and CTOs. GDPR will no longer be binding in the UK after 1 January 2021, leading to new data laws being introduced. Fear not – the UK government has said it intends to incorporate GDPR into UK data protection laws, but it’s still incredibly likely there will be tweaks and amendments to it.

The number of data privacy cases will likely continue to increase, but with every case brings further clarity to other businesses learning lessons about data protection. CTOs need to consider who will be responsible for the flow of personal data, reviewing information and ensuring that the correct processes are in place for business continuity and disaster recovery.

2 – Changing mindsets on data

Data is not the devil – but CTO’s already know that. Their customers and others in the leadership team, however, may not be comfortable with that thinking. The demand for data as a product is through the roof, providing value-added digital transformations and acting as a virtual decision-maker.

The growing complexity of the nation’s habits and desires means that data has had to fast track the growth of knowledge. Data removes the ‘intuition’ that senior decision makers have to go on, and instead validates the course of action you choose for your business.

CTOs need to ensure they have transparent processes in place about the status of their data integrity. Be open about the processes, and what you use your customer and employee data for. And for the leadership team, it will become harder and harder to avoid the benefits of using Big Data – such as improved operational efficiency, greater transparency into costs, and smarter decision making.

3 –  CFOs will try to claw back early 2020 investments

Technology has proved it’s the beating heart of business continuity during these unusual times. But Gartner’s IT spending report found that budgets were down 6.5% overall in Europe.

One of the things on top of all Chief Financial Officers (CFO) priority lists is to reduce any overspend and improve budgeting. Cuts to IT aren’t because leaders need convincing of the importance of technology – it’s a priority.

But due to the increased spending on short-term fixes to enable businesses to work from home in the first ‘new normal’ of 2020, many businesses are scrutinising any extra investments to claw back some of the overspend. It will be a case of proving why it is crucial for businesses to gain an innovation edge and speed up digital transformation.

Especially for public companies – their share prices can increase or decrease value just by public perception – which is definitely something which board members care about. Consider looking into better tools, services and solutions which can allow for better budget use and a deeper understanding into the benefits your investments are making to your company.

4 – Tackling the talent shortage

Another main challenge of CTOs is a lack of knowledge by employees on new technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning. A 2020 PwC survey finds that 74 percent of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills. A company is only as good as its people, but when the purse strings have tightened, there may be less scope for hiring externally, and instead you turn to upskilling.

Outsourcing talent can help you to keep innovating, get you on your feet and provide a better service. But continuing to innovate must mean that you have the skills to align with new projects that are in the pipeline. You should be prioritising time on training, but you can also bring in skill sets by working with targeted recruiters and external partners.

5 – Delayed technical debt

After the shift to an almost-fully virtual world in March, many companies faced new challenges that they needed quick fixes for in the race to appeal to the market.

But while quick solutions can generate business sales, if you only focus on the ‘essentials’ at the time and not the full picture, you risk facing vulnerabilities. For example, if you prioritise your employees need to work from home, but don’t invest in data management and security planning such as a VPN, issues will eventually begin to surface.

Opting for cloud and SaaS solutions will remove the issue of foresight, and avoid your team being faced with the decision between the urgent and the important. CTOs will need to have their fingers on not just the technology, but also the timing of their investments.

To avoid technical debt, ensure good policies and governance are in place for all technology under the CTO remit. This could include a regular analysis of your strategy to ensure overall architecture is needed. This limits technology creep, which leads to technical debt. You should also add technical debt into your agile development cycles – e.g. every sprint must have 10% tech debt work, or every 5th sprint is a ‘bug bash.’

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