Worldwide IT spending is projected to reach nearly $4 trillion this year. As technology advances and new tools surface, today's chief technology officers face more pressure than ever to keep pace with the endless options of emerging tech to choose from. Sifting through these tools to discover the ones that will drive impact, among the many other responsibilities CTOs have on their plates, becomes a massive undertaking.
Rather than simply purchasing and implementing new tools that other leaders or vendors deem the “latest and greatest,” CTOs should stay skeptical and work to identify those that will move the needle for their team. Here are a few ways I foster an environment of thoughtful technology selection, as well as ways to bring on innovations that will drive the future of work.
Pay close attention to your team’s current needs
“If you have a nail, then look for a hammer” (and not the other way around) is my favorite motto when it comes to identifying new tools. Only seek out those that solve a specific issue your team faces right now or will face soon to maximize ROI. Have a strategy for the long term, but since technology advances at a crazy speed, don’t jump on the bandwagon too early. Living this mindset also means understanding that the best tools often come organically from your teammates -- they are closest to the product and process and have a pulse on the challenges faced daily.
To start, foster a culture that encourages teammates to speak up about issues and proposed solutions. One of the most productive tools we use now was brought to me by an engineer who shed light on a very specific problem he faced and a solution that could help. We were spending copious amounts of time identifying exactly what was causing unusual behavior in our databases, and he found a database performance monitoring tool that helped us troubleshoot much faster. While I was skeptical at first about its function and usefulness, this engineer demonstrated to me its benefits and gradually brought other engineers on board with using it. It’s now one of the most critical tools we use. This instance taught me the importance of empowering my team to speak up and push back on managers when it comes to seeding new ideas.
Fuel a culture of creativity
Aside from creating a culture that values all ideas, another way to mine for tools that will drive impact is to ask engineers what they’ve worked on in their spare time. Often in these hours outside of work, teammates will flex their creative muscles and use the headspace to dream up ways to simplify tasks. Make it a priority to ask about personal projects during full team and 1:1 meetings to create pathways for teammates to share their voices.
At our company, we also host quarterly hackathons that help fuel this culture of creativity. One of our early hackathons happened at an AWS event in Las Vegas when a group of engineers decided to order takeout to their hotel room and code late into the night. In this one evening of collaboration and teamwork, we unveiled a few discoveries that ended up becoming the foundation for some of the components of our architecture today. In addition to enjoying a team bonding night, we learned the importance of embracing these creative endeavors to drive discoveries that will make an impact and have since made them a regular event in our organization that the whole company looks forward to.
Test and verify, verify, verify your automation
While I believe automation is overhyped and will never fully replace the work humans can do on a team, I do think it is a great tool and provides some benefits to specific teams at organizations. We cut out the need for manual testing with automation, so we can make decisions about how to react to problems faster, and ultimately drive a superior customer experience. By automating routine tasks, leaders can open doors for employees to further breed personal growth and focus on the more challenging, impactful projects machines can’t handle.
However, there are limits to the tasks automation can help with, and the technology is only beneficial in the long run if you treat it like software and test and verify it to ensure its continuously working correctly. The only thing worse than not embracing automation at all is having untested automation. Bugs in automation are incredibly expensive, and to prevent these costly incidents, you must ensure verification methods are in place (these verification methods can be manual or automated). I’ve seen teams attempt to move faster and “more efficiently” with automated processes by cutting out the verification step, only to face significant issues and time-consuming problems to clean up in the future. Taking small steps at the start to make sure you test and verify automation can make or break the technology’s positive impact on your team and organization at large.
As every company becomes a technology company, a major part of this shift will mean determining which tools will give you leverage, and which ones will distract your team from broader goals. Spending time finding the tools that fit naturally and add benefits to your teams’ workflow will open doors to creativity and frictionless collaboration without disrupting the work your team does best.
Hector Aguilar is the President of Technology at Okta, and is responsible for running engineering and technology. His focus is developing strategic planning for the direction of product development activities and managing the engineering team, as well as business technology and corporate IT. Prior to Okta, Aguilar served in a variety of roles at ArcSight since its inception, driving technology development as the CTO and Vice President of Software Development for the company during its successful IPO in 2008 and after its acquisition by Hewlett Packard.