Jaco Vermeulen – Raconteur
A successful CTO needs to influence, negotiate and collaborate. Time to focus on leadership skills – and let your team get on with the day to day
Resident tech expert’ no longer accurately describes the chief technology officer’s role.
Since ongoing digital transformation spans the enterprise, the CTO must forge the right relationships to get the right results. This includes strategic conversations with C-suite colleagues to understand how technology can be used to deliver business value.
Jaco Vermeulen is a portfolio CTO for consultancy BML Digital. He believes that rather than fitting technology into a strategy, tech leaders should “translate business strategy into technology and understand how to implement it in the right way, at the right time, and at the right cost.”
Of course, the role of a CTO does require an understanding of technology and how to implement it. But ultimately it is not the CTO but their team who are busy with the technical, day-to-day operational activities.
What is expected of the CTO is the ability to demystify technology, manage expectations and communicate realistic outcomes, says Vermeulen.
According to James Absalom, chief commercial officer at talent advisory firm ZRG, 90% of a CTO’s time is spent influencing strategy and driving change across the organisation. “While CTOs do need to have a tech and digital background, their most important skills are to do with people, relationships and change management,” he says.
Who are the CTO’s most important allies?
As a result, the three most significant relationships a CTO needs to develop within the executive committee are with the chief executive, chief HR officer (CHRO) and chief financial officer (CFO).
In Absalom’s view, the relationship with HR is a valuable jumping-off point – particularly for newly appointed CTOs – to understand how the organisation works. “Modern CHROs are change agents, people-focused and enablers for everyone to be successful,” says Absalom. They are also arbiters of company culture; aware of whether the company is open to change and digitally savvy – and that’s vitally useful insight when communicating with other C-level colleagues.
Another key relationship to nurture is with the CFO, believes Vermeulen. “Working closely with the CFO helps you translate technical value into financial benefits and payback, which most people understand,” he says. “You can use that data as a vehicle to create trust because people see that it isn’t about buying new software, it’s about investing in the future of the business.”
The third and most important relationship to build is with the CEO. As Vermeulen points out: “The CEO sets the broader strategic direction, and the CTO acts as a mirror for that, working out how to deliver the strategy through technology.” How should CTOs build influence with these and other key figures in the C-suite and across the organisation?