In our weekly series, Information Age speaks to Rufus Grig, chief technology and strategy officer at Maintel, on the changing direction of the CTO and the importance of understanding how customers are going to use and benefit from your products/technology.
He also delved into how the cloud has disrupted the entire telecoms industry, and what technology he sees having the most impact in the near future. You can read more on this, here.
Maintel is a cloud managed services company with a communications focus in three areas: the digital workplace, which for them is predominantly unified communications, customer experience and secured connectivity. The company’s HQ is a short 20 minute drive from our office, just over the river.
In Information Age’s pursuit of understanding the great variety of chief technology officers that work for technology-led companies in and around our area, we have embarked on a mission to find out what type of CTOs are here, what it takes for them to succeed and what challenges they face.
’50/50 focus on strategy and product’
As this series has already established, there are very internally focused CTOs who focus on making sure that they keep the lights on. And then there are CTOs like Grig, who are very externally focused.
>See also: Understanding and enabling customer experience networks
Like many CTOs, Grig’s role is extensive. He doesn’t focus on one area of the business, but rather has a “50/50 focus on strategy and product“.
“I don’t have anything to do with keeping the lights on, I don’t have anything to do with our IT or internal systems or operation of our platforms. That’s all managed by our head of IT, who looks after that side of things, and we have an operations team who do things like managing our cloud platform.”
The strategy-led, external-facing CTO has to prioritise what technology should be presented to customers; how it should be delivered, how it should be deployed, how to make it easier for customers to consume and how to make sure that the customers can get value from it quickly.
This strategic focus “is very tied up with the product side, because you have to make sure that you put the appropriate product wrap and service wrap around those things that you’re taking to market,” explained Grig.
“It’s outward looking rather than inward looking, and my role focuses on the product portfolio and the strategy, and around how we need to develop that.”
‘Understand how your customer is going to use the technology’
To succeed in the role of CTO requires a number of qualities, as we have seen throughout this running series – the right attitude and understanding of the product and the market is key.
Knowing where the technology is going, to be ahead of the game, so that you can plan ahead, to remain relevant, is also essential.
“But you also have to understand how customers are going to use and benefit from that technology,” said Grig. “The pure-play start-up CTO can be blue sky thinking and tinkering with stuff that’s many years out there and may never see the light of day. I have to make sure that I’m getting it right much more often than I’m getting it wrong, in terms of making sure that we have products to market when customers are going to need them, and in ways that customers are going to be able to get value from them quickly.”
>See also: How businesses can benefit from prioritising customer experience
In Grig’s eyes, the ability to put himself in his customer’s shoes is the biggest factor that contributes to his success in this role. “I do spend quite a lot of time with CIOs and CTOs of our customers, understanding what their challenges are so that I can help them – partly I help them develop their strategy, but that does also really help me inform our strategy in terms of the way that we need to bend our product portfolio and go-to-market strategy.”
A broad challenge in telecommunications
The telecoms’s industry employees a broad set of technologies that those in the industry need to be all over. It’s not pure play software, and while companies and CTOs – like Maintel and Grig – have to understand software (both in terms the software they develop and the APIs that integrators use to pull things together), they also need a really strong understanding of networking, “because telco is all about the network”.
>See also: 2018: The year for telco transformation
“You also have to have a strong understanding of security, because the network has to be secure, all the applications have to be secure. And you also have to be able to understand how that actually then plays into customers’ IT and application environments.”
Moving forward, CTOs with an external focus will need to add value to their organisation and customer ‘ecosystem’ in different, innovative ways.
“Any technology that we’re taking to market is no longer standalone; it’s not an island in its own right,” explained Grig. A successful CTO in the telecommunications industry will “have to work with the public cloud providers, integrate the application layer and integrate with the network layer.”
A ‘changing direction’ for the CTO
“When I started off, I was CTO of a software company; we made one product; it was pretty monolithic. We took it along, we installed it on the customer, it didn’t really integrate very much else and you could be the absolute expert on that element,” said Grig.
>See also: From CTO to CEO: Is rotating roles the future of the c-suite?
“These days APIs are becoming increasingly important. Customers expect everything to integrate with everything else. They want to see things like single sign-on. They want the CRM system to talk to the service management system. They want their staff to be able to access through any device and different applications to be able to talk to each other.”
In the changing direction of the CTO’s role, first they have to understand the business IT landscape and the role that APIs play in that; and to understand the role that their particular set of products and services play in that API ecosystem. So, where they need to be offering APIs that other applications and other service users can get hold of and use; and where they need to be making use of other people’s APIs.
“There is no single monolithic infrastructure any more, it’s very much everything has to work with everything else,” concluded Grig.
A follow up to this interview will be released next week, where Grig discuss how the cloud has completely disrupted the telecommunications industry.