We speak with technology leaders day in, day out, and the role and responsibilities have expanded enormously over the past decade. While CIOs and CTOs were traditionally responsible for “keeping the lights on” – managing infrastructure and systems – they’re now expected to be strategic business partners. There’s pressure on them to drive innovation, enable digital transformation, and contribute to overall business growth. They need a seat at the executive table.
Our Business Development Director, Allan Smith works really close with his clients and becomes a true extension of the team. This has allowed him to dig into how the tech leadership role has evolved and key challenges being faced. He has shared his key take-aways below for any tech leaders driving commercial projects or change.
Top skills required for commercial tech leaders in the new landscape
First is communication – CIOs and CTOs need to translate ‘tech-speak’ for other leaders and persuasively make the case for technology investments. Second is business acumen – they must understand the company’s goals and operations to identify where tech can create value. Third is talent development – building high-performing IT teams is crucial. And fourth is forward-thinking – given rapid change, they must anticipate future needs. The most effective CIOs and CTOs blend tech expertise with these “softer” abilities.
The main risk is getting stuck in the old mindset of IT as a cost centre or support function. If CIOs view their responsibility as just maintaining infrastructure, they’ll miss opportunities to innovate. Another trap is not thinking outside their domain – successful CIOs engage with other leaders across the business to find solutions. Finally, tech chiefs sometimes overlook the human aspects of change management when implementing new systems. The best approach is leading people through change, not just managing technology.
Relationship between the CIO and CTO
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Often the CTO focuses on future tech and innovation, while the CIO manages ongoing IT operations. Other times, the CTO takes the engineering side while the CIO handles corporate tech strategy. Alignment between the two is critical – they must complement each other. The best practice is formalising their responsibilities early on to avoid overlap or conflict.
Tech leaders should have regular touchpoints with leaders in sales, marketing, product development, and other areas. Maintaining an open dialogue builds trust and enables the CIO and CTO to tailor tech solutions to business needs. Some companies also encourage IT heads to participate in rotations or projects outside IT, to immerse them in different aspects of the business.
Advice to make a major new system or software rollout a success
User adoption is often overlooked. The best initiatives involve extensive communication and training so people understand how their roles will change and what’s expected. CIOs and CTOs should also identify ‘power’ or ‘super’ users across the business to champion the change – and they need to stick closely to timelines and milestones to maintain momentum. Building in immediate quick wins helps reinforce the benefits. With careful stakeholder and change management, large-scale tech deployments can positively transform operations.
I’ll just re-emphasise the urgent need for technology leaders to evolve into fully strategic roles. The business landscape is changing fast, and every company’s future will be shaped by tech innovation. CIOs and CTOs have a tremendous opportunity right now to step up as partners driving this digital transformation. But they need to be proactive – crafting a vision for how tech can enable business success, not just passively enabling individual projects. With the right mindset shift, IT leaders can define the next chapter of global innovation for their organisations.
Final advice to drive commercial success
Step one is getting a seat at the revenue table – insist on being part of core business conversations. Step two is learning the language of business, like ROI. Step three is proposing tech-enabled solutions for priorities like improved customer experience. And step four is hiring and developing technical teams with creative, collaborative problem-solving skills. If CIOs and CTOs adopt these practices, they can transform from service providers to true strategic partners.