Are you on your “A” game? Keeping yourself up to date has never been more vital…
FACT: The CIO/CTO position is the only Board position where the necessary knowledge and skills need constant updating. Just like Moore’s Law has seen the exponential increase in computing power, so has the IT expert’s need to stay abreast of technology. It can be a nightmare. CEOs want their teams to be on their ‘A’ Game, and for us that means constantly updating our knowledge and our ability to handle new tech.
And the stakes are high. IT increasingly underpins all strategic business objectives—no department can deliver them without IT. It’s our team that increasingly underwrites the strategic objectives and enables the CEO to deliver them and to provide shareholder value. So we absolutely must understand the latest technology and being able to discuss options, ideas, and principles with department heads.
We don’t have to know everything. I’m not talking about in-depth ‘build-a-layered-network’ type of knowledge. I mean having enough technical knowledge to be able to innovate, to make informed strategic decisions, to keep the business ahead of the competition, and to know what the technicians are talking about.
This means that a fundamental part of knowledge acquisition is deciding what to learn, how to learn and when to learn. So, how do you choose?
We use a simple diagram:
The idea then is to figure out where each bit of technology falls on the continuum. Here is what I suggest:
1. Think about your current situation and the needs. You might even make a list:
· What do you need?
· What does the company need?
· What does your team need?
2. Once you have the needs in front of you, prioritise:
Where is the most urgent need for knowledge? Concentrate on that area, but don’t ignore the others—make sure they have an appropriate place in the order.
3. Work out how best to gain this knowledge. There are a number of ways to learn:
· The traditional route. Websites, books, magazine articles, etc. Many CIOs we know set up Google Alerts on topics they want to stay on top of. This method is useful for finding new knowledge or innovative ideas.
· The on-the-go route. Podcasts, TED sessions, audiobooks and the like—sources that you can learn from when you’re driving or exercising. This method works well for topic assessment or getting under the skin of a specific technology.
· The planned attendance route. These are occasions when you’ve signed up to a training session, a conference, or a webinar, because the topic is interesting and useful, but it’s not an immediate priority. It’s also useful for ‘large topic’ learning.
· Just-in-time. This is when you’re just a few pages ahead of those you’re working with. This sort of knowledge can be gained from peers, colleagues, or even the technical teams. You just need to know how to ask the right questions. This is not a substitute for the other routes; it has to be ‘as-well-as,’ not ‘instead-of.’
· ‘Find an expert who knows.’ Look within your network for someone with an in-depth knowledge of the subject. Buy them a coffee or lunch and find out the salient points. Also: ask the expert how he or she acquires their knowledge; they may know a website or seminar you haven’t heard of.
Remember that for the most part this is not about monolithic knowledge. It’s about distinguishing which pieces of knowledge will be useful to you and the business. Prince2, for example, is all very well. But if you try and implement the whole thing you lose credibility. Instead, implement a few useful parts as the basis of sensible project management. The key to knowledge acquisition is knowing which bits to leave on the cutting room floor.
CIOs and CTOs have a complex job, and their knowledge base reflects that. It’s not just the functional IT knowledge they need to keep improving, there’s all the IT leadership knowledge as well. Not to mention the business and commercial skills, like forecasting and budgets. Whilst these other areas of knowledge don’t change at half the speed functional IT does, they do move on. So you need to constantly review the diagram above, adjusting your learning objectives accordingly.
A successful CIO or CTO will be the one who invests time and energy in judiciously updating their knowledge and skills. If it’s not yet a priority for you, it damn well should be! The fundamental point is don’t let it become something that you look back on and realise you should have done more of. Regret can be a painful thing to have in a career.
CIO, CTO, or CISO: Which one do I need?
We’re often approached by ambitious mid-market CEOs looking to transform their business with IT and technology. The question of how to do it depends on the particular business. (When a salesperson tells you their product is exactly what you need to fix all your problems, hide your wallet.) What all these businesses have in common, however, is the need for an experienced, business-minded IT expert in the C-suite who can lead the transformation.
Another question quickly arises: What kind of expert? Does your mid-market business need a CIO, a CTO, or a CISO? Let’s take you briefly through each position so you can make an informed decision.
What is a CIO?
A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a senior-level position with ultimate responsibility for technology, teams, and suppliers. CIOs provide clear oversight of systems, processes, data reporting, and staff — when it comes to IT and technology, the buck stops with them.
CIOs will actively contribute to C-suite discussions on higher-level decisions and will ensure the IT solutions support the business strategy. Their focus is on business improvements, risk management, and cybersecurity, rather than delivering the day-to-day technology.
In addition, CIOs drive integration, automation, and transformation projects, such as an ERP or custom software development.
CIOs have decades of experience in all aspects of technology and IT, so they tend to earn high salaries. (See our article on CIO salaries.)
What is a CTO?
A Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is also a senior-level position, someone with deep business and IT experience who can create, lead, and deliver technology strategies and solutions to accelerate business growth. The CTO, however, will be more involved with delivering technology initiatives, for example overseeing the development of custom software or apps.
For organizations with both a CIO and CTO, the CIO is usually senior. But the positions should be complementary, especially if a business is looking to grow. And while there will of course be overlap in terms of skillsets, they are two different positions, with different career paths.
CTOs also have decades of experience and tend to earn high salaries, if not quite as high as a CIO. (See our article on how to determine CTO salaries.)
What is a CISO?
A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is also a senior-level executive, and usually works closely with a CIO and/or a CTO. As a mid-market business becomes larger and more complex, it often needs a specialist to own and lead cybersecurity, so they hire a CISO.
A CISO is specifically responsible for the security and safekeeping of technology, information, and systems. They communicate risk mitigation strategies to their senior colleagues in plain English, while driving the leadership and cultural changes that make security a reality.
This means that CISOs have ownership of cybersecurity for a business’s infrastructure, applications, and systems and processes. They manage information risk and regulatory compliance, as well as disaster recovery and business continuity planning.
CISOs are highly specialized and in-demand, so they too command high salaries.
Paying for a CIO, CTO, or CISO
Hopefully you now have a better idea of the differences between the positions and what your own business may need. There is also the question of how to pay for them. Mid-market businesses often don’t want, don’t need, or can’t find a full-time CIO, CTO, or CISO. That’s why Freeman Clarke uses the fractional or part-time model. (See our article, Why Fractional?)
We are not a recruitment firm. We’re a team of 85 senior-level CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs who can join your senior leadership team to own and deliver your IT strategy and cybersecurity on a fractional basis.
This means that we bring transformational business benefits at a fraction of the cost. Our expert technology leaders create, lead, and deliver systems and digital strategies that will drive growth and innovation, help you seize new opportunities, and ensure you’re safe from cyber concerns, without harming your bottom line.
The range and experience of our IT leaders also means that you’re not limited to the strict definition of any of the above roles. We get you the IT leader you need, which might draw together different aspects of a CIO, CTO, or CISO.
If you’d like to learn how we’ve helped mid-market businesses like yours, read our client stories. Or Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.
We all want to see our businesses grow, but without a technology roadmap for growth, it can create a lot of headaches for a mid-market business. Our experts discuss the value of a roadmap for growth and why you should start one.
Once you have your core processes and technology worked out, it becomes much easier to look for new ways to grow. Our IT and technology experts discuss how they’ve helped clients leverage their existing customer base and find new markets.
Meeting apps like Zoom and Teams have been incredibly useful for keeping businesses going during the pandemic. And now hybrid work is the new normal. So how do mid-market business leaders keep solidify their company culture in this new environment? Our experts discuss how IT and technology can help.
6 Reasons You Can’t Find Workers (and What to Do About It)
For mid-market businesses, hiring the right people is always a challenge. In today’s employment market, it can be near-impossible.
Not so long ago we thought it would be the opposite. Most pundits were warning that mass unemployment would follow in the wake of the pandemic. And yet many countries now have record employment rates. US unemployment has fallen from almost 15% in 2020 to 3.6% in April 2022. In the UK, the unemployment rate is 3.7%, and in many wealthy areas real unemployment is close to zero.
This is a truly remarkable transformation in the employment market. So what’s behind it?
We see six factors that have dramatically choked off the supply of workers:
Older workers left the workforce earlier than expected due to age, lifestyle choices, illness, or fear of illness.
Reduced immigration and increased emigration as many decided to hunker down in their home countries.
People switched jobs, especially from services closed during lockdowns — which then created shortages when those sectors re-opened.
Career-switchers reduced the available skills capital (such as an experienced chef who is now a delivery driver).
Large numbers of people who wanted to change jobs postponed due to uncertainty, so many positions that might have opened stayed filled.
And, of course, dynamism in the market reduces its short-term elasticity, because people who change jobs aren’t normally looking to change again for a couple of years.
All these factors are creating an entirely new, unwelcome challenge for mid-market businesses. In response, many companies are taking extraordinary steps to beef up pay and benefits packages and improve working conditions.
But to really emerge from this revolution ready for the next 20 years, mid-market companies should look seriously at how effectively they are using this most precious of resources, their people.
Of all our resources, people are often what really make the difference. So now is the time make the best use of your best assets. This means peeling back frustrating layers of complexity, reorganizing, and re-designing systems and processes.
The goal is to create a lean and efficient business that’s able to meet increased demand without the need to recruit. That’s why we’re currently working with our clients to reduce waste and friction and to automate and integrate wherever possible.
There will of course be times when you have to hire new people. But you can minimize turnover when you give your people fewer reasons to look elsewhere.
Hybrid working is the strategic challenge of the decade for mid-market business leaders. Why do I say that?
Business is all about relationships. And in-person, face-to-face contact builds relationships like nothing else. Companies selling engagement apps and collaboration tools say otherwise, but they have a vested interest in their own nonsense.
Since the “war for talent” began — the enormously competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining top talent — we’ve seen that the magic behind great companies is employee engagement. And the hybrid workplace is now a crucial part of that. The winners will be those businesses with a hybrid workplace that attracts and engages the best people.
The pandemic complicated the issue, of course. Many companies are finding that the talent they recruited during the pandemic don’t have the same connection to the company.
The challenge now is to create deep ties, rather than allow loose ties to become normalized. And all of it must be within the hybrid paradigm.
A lack of staff engagement hurts a business. Some surveys suggest 40% of staff globally are considering leaving their current job. In that environment, strategic progress is impossible — simply maintaining stable operations becomes the all-consuming focus.
But as the cliché says, every challenge is an opportunity. This is your chance to redefine where, who, and how you recruit. It’s an opportunity to reconsider which parts of your business are insourced and outsourced. It’s even an opportunity to redefine the processes and systems that your business is built on.
In the meantime, you can take smaller, more immediate steps to solidify engagement — and ironically that’s by reinventing face-to-face meetings.
It’s so easy to communicate from home, so an in-person meeting must be something better. Treat each one as a valuable opportunity. Every face-to-face meeting should be as productive, enjoyable, and enriching as possible. A couple of suggestions:
Be considerate with their time. Bear in mind the time, aggravation, and resources consumed in travel to the meeting, as well as the length of the meeting itself.
Bring your A-game. When you’re leading a face-to-face meeting, give it your full effort and attention. Plan ahead. And expect the same of everyone else.
Get everyone involved. Let everyone know what’s expected of them beforehand, and then ensure they all get involved.
Remote engagement requires a more strategic approach. Hybrid environments need efficient systems and operations. Effective outsourcing requires seamless systems integration. And all of the above requires a vision and world-class leadership.
If you want to discuss how this should look for your business, then please get in touch. We’ve been helping mid-market businesses create systems and work environments for new hybrid strategies — I’d be delighted to see how we can help your company.
Mid-Market Report: Four Steps to Navigating Inflation
It sounds like something from the deep past of the 70s, like disco balls and bell bottoms. But inflation is back. In the US, it’s over 5%. In the UK, where we have many clients, The Bank of England warns it could reach 4%.
While we don’t see it reaching the heights of the bad old days, these relatively high levels of inflation — and the subsequent interest rate hikes — may lead to changes in business fundamentals that we haven’t seen for some time.
As in any emerging situation, the question for us is, what does this mean to our mid-market clients? Our Regional Directors had a virtual conference to talk it through.
The stories from our clients are dramatic:
Prices for shipping and building materials have doubled
Gas prices up 40%
Rising labor costs in hospitality and retail
Lawyers and other experts are raising their rates
Salaries for certain IT skills have skyrocketed.
So we’re concerned. But we’ve been listening to our clients and thinking hard about it, and we believe there are ways of managing inflation.
Here is what we are recommending to our mid-market clients:
Take a step back and look at your markets and customers and revisit the basic strategic questions: what do they want? How do you give it to them?
2. Speed up reporting.
Demand, costs, prices, and supply are changing rapidly; pricing and purchasing decisions need to be made quickly. You need faster internal information flow for your reporting.
3. Automate to reduce costs.
Replace aging ERP systems. Integrate your processes. Use bots for the first line of customer service—consumers are used to them by now. You won’t be able to automate everything, nor should you. But where can you?
4. Improve online experiences.
Look at your front end through a customer’s eyes. Is the product imagery and information detailed enough? Attractively presented? Are you delivering a simple user experience for even complex purchases?
Inflation is affecting almost every business sector from construction to investment management. But the real danger isn’t pricing, it’s complacency. It’s adapt or die: the winners will be those companies continually reassessing the opportunities, staying alert, and moving quickly.
The pandemic took us all by surprise, but we’ve had our eyes on hybrid working for some time.
In 2018, we noticed that while urbanization and commuting remain established “megatrends” across the world, there were signs in both the US and UK that office working was on the wane. To provide some guidance for our clients, we wrote a CEO’s Briefing: How to Make It Work When They Work from Home.
Of course, with the pandemic, this gradual trend became a sudden flip. And what a flip: a US survey from late 2020 reported that the jump in remote-working was from 20% to 71%.
For many companies there was a simple, mass evacuation from the office conducted with little time to plan, and even less time for a strategy. Nevertheless, during the months that followed, people and companies adapted to new ways of working and found ways to cope.
Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and strategize.
As the pandemic eases, many companies are looking again at office working, home-working and hybrid arrangements. Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and enact a thought-out strategy.
We propose that your approach should be based on the following steps.
Remind your senior leaders of your business objectives and how your business stands out in the market. What makes it special in terms of customers and value? This should drive planning for you and other decision-makers in your organization.
For example, if your market is highly commodified, then of course this is an opportunity to look again at outsourcing to lower costs (or to automate more roles and eliminate some costs altogether).
If your business thrives on creativity, however, we recommend that you bring your people together, because thereis no substitute for the spark of brilliant people, in a room, face-to-face.
If you are competing to recruit rare talent, then perhaps home or hybrid working allows you to recruit more easily — to cast the net wider and to offer a better package than your competitors.
If you emphasize great service, then think about what your customers want, rather than what you want.
Your plans for home, office or hybrid working should be rooted in the job profiles within your company. Not all office jobs have the same profile and needs; what makes sense for a credit control assistant may not make sense for a product designer.
Consider the job in terms of:
The frequency, complexity, and ambiguity of interactions with others,
The need for supervision or help,
And, of course, the employee’s access to suitable home-working arrangements and/or their need for specialist office equipment.
Your adoption of home, office or hybrid working should be based on the needs of the job rather than the department or seniority.
It’s easy to do hybrid working badly. Meetings where half the team are in the office and half are remote can easily leave the remote workers feeling excluded. Getting the best from all your people requires more deliberate communications and inclusion; even more clarity on roles, processes and controls; and investment in technology that supports hybrid working patterns.
Hybrid working must be part of the culture of the company. People need to see how the hybrid way of working has become part of the day-to-day, and how they are still part of the company even if they’re rarely in the office. This is particularly important for engaging new starters.
Set clear expectations of how work gets done, for instance defining when and if their physical presence is expected. Maybe it’s okay to attend company-wide meetings on video, but weekly brainstorming sessions should be in person.
Go overboard with communication: send out information on all channels, engaging everyone at all levels, and encouraging them to take part.
Recognize that not everyone has a great working environment at home. Senior staff may have a spare room; junior staff may be using the kitchen table.
One of our colleagues remarked that the pandemic was the first time that communication with his offshore providers had actually worked well, because they were equals in video meetings rather than side-lined. This anecdote shows how easily we can get it wrong and lose so much of what people have to offer.
But when done right, hybrid working offers the opportunity to attract the best, to lower costs, and to reduce the impact on the environment. We have a unique opportunity right now to improve service to our customers and increase productivity and job satisfaction. Let’s make the most of it.
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