Trick or Treat: Top 5 Fears of a CTO

By Chris Ward, CTO

Journey to the Cloud’s Ben Stephenson recently sat down with Chris Ward, CTO of GreenPages-LogicsOne, to get his take on what the top 5 fears of a CTO are.

Ben: Chief Technology Officer is obviously an extremely strategic, important, and difficult role within an organization. Since it’s almost Halloween, and since you’re an active (and successful) CTO yourself, I thought we would talk about your Top 5 Fears of a CTO. You also have the unique perspective of seeing how GreenPages uses technology internally, as well as how GreenPages advises clients to utilize different technologies.

Chris: Sounds good. I think a major fear is “Falling Behind the Trends.” In this case, it’s not necessarily that you couldn’t see what was coming down the path. You can see it there and know it’s coming, but can you get there with velocity? Can you get there before the competition does?

Ben: Do you have any examples of when you have avoided falling behind the trends?

Chris: At GreenPages, we were fortunate to catch virtualization early on when a lot of others didn’t. We had a lot of customers who were not sold on virtualization for 2-4 years. Those customers are now very far behind the competition and are trying to play catch up. In some cases, I’m sure it’s meant the CTO is out of a job. We also utilized virtualization internally early on and reaped the benefits. Another example is our CMaaS Brokerage and Governance offering. We recognize the significance of cloud brokerage and the paradigm shift towards a hybrid cloud computing model. In this case we are out ahead of the market.

Ben: How about a time when GreenPages did fall behind a trend?

Chris: I would say we fell behind a trend when we began our managed services business. It was traditional, old school managed services. It definitely took us some time to figure out where we wanted to go and where we wanted to be. While we may have fallen behind initially, we recognized change was needed and our Cloud Management as a Service offering has transformed us. Instead of sitting back and missing the boat, we are now in a great spot. This will be a huge help to our customers – but will (and does already) help us significantly internally as well.

Ben: How about fear number 2?

Chris: Fear number two is not seeing around the bend.  From my perspective as the CTO at a solutions provider, things move so fast in this industry and GreenPages offers such a wide variety and breadth of products and services to customer – it can be very difficult to keep up with. If we focused on only one area it would be a lot easier, but since we focus on cloud, virtualization, end user computing, security, storage, datacenter transformation, networking and more it can be quite challenging. For a corporate CTO you are allowed to be a market follower, which can be somewhat of an advantage. While you don’t want to fall behind, you do have partners, like GreenPages and others out there, that you can count on.

Ben: That makes sense. What about a 3rd fear?

Chris: Another large fear for CTOs is making a wrong turn. CTOs can get the crystal ball out and there may be a couple of things coming down the road…but what happens if you turn left and everyone else turns right? What happens if you make the wrong decision or the decision to early?

Ben: Can you give us an example?

Chris: A good example of taking a turn too early in the Cloud era is with the company Nirvanix. Cloud storage is extremely important, but what happens when a business model has not been properly vetted? This is one of the “gotchas” of being an early adopter. To be successful you need a good mix. You can’t be too conservative, but you can’t jump all in any time a new company pops up – the key is balance.

Ben: Do you have any advice for CTOs about this?

Chris: Sure – just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

Ben: I’ve heard you say that one before…

Chris: For example, software defined networking stacks, with products like Cisco Insieme and VMware NSX are very cool new technologies. I personally, and we at GreenPages, think this is going to be the next big thing. But we’re at a crossroads…who should use these? Who will gain the benefits? For example, maybe it makes sense for the enterprise but not for small businesses? This is something major that I have to determine – who is this a good fit for?

Ben: How about fear number 4?

Chris: Fear number 4 revolves around retaining my talent. I want my team to feel like they are always learning something new. I want them to know they are always on the bleeding edge of IT. I want to give them a world that changes very quickly. In my experience, most people that are stellar employees in a technical capacity want to be challenged constantly and to try new things and look at different ways of doing things.

Ben: What should CTOs do to try and retain talent?

Chris: Really take the time and focus on building a culture and environment that harnesses what I mentioned above. If not, you’re at serious risk of losing top talent.

Ben: Before I get too scared let’s get to number 5 and finish this up.

Chris: I’d say the fifth fear of mine is determining if I am working with the right technologies and the right vendors. IT can often be walking a tightrope between vendors from technical and business perspectives. From my perspective, I need to make sure we are providing our customers with the right technology from the right vendor to meet their needs. I need to determine if the technology works as advertised. Is it something that is reasonable to implement? Is there money in this for GreenPages?

Ben: What about from a customer’s perspective?

Chris: The customer also needs to make sure they align themselves with the right partners.  CTOs want to find partners that are looking towards the future, who will advise them correctly, and who will allow the business to stay out ahead of the competition. If a CTO looks at a partner or technology and doesn’t think it’s really advancing the business, then it’s time to reevaluate.

Ben: Thanks for the time Chris – and good luck!

What are your top fears as an IT decision makers? Leave them in the comment section!

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