Juggling the responsibility of maintaining the overarching technology infrastructure of an organisation and the enablement of innovation in a business are the typical requirements of chief technology officers.

However, many find themselves tasked by the CEO with focusing on innovation – or more major blue sky technology investments which make a perceivable difference to operations.

This risks ignoring critical background projects and can lead to disastrous consequences. Adding more layers to an onion that is past its use-by will still result in a mouldy centre, similar to how critical underlying systems are viewed and dealt with.

An exposed business-dependent legacy system that’s irreparably damaged or compromised by a cyber-attack such as ransomware may result in costly downtime – and this is a serious concern. A worldwide study of businesses in 2021 revealed that 44% of enterprises incur hourly downtime costs exceeding $1m on average. In terms of cyber threats, ransomware is an ever growing risk to business, costing on average $1.79m in 2021.

Everyday struggles and following the crowd

This conundrum reflects everyday tensions that modern CTOs must face. It’s easy when budgets are devised to put a line through seemingly minor processes that can wait but wait long enough, and a critical underlying system can break without intervention. While many will follow the mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, this will apply whilst the system remains functional but will become a lot harder to fix when it finally goes wrong. The downtime and costs associated are subsequently bigger than savings made by choosing to not act initially.

Many technologists are agents of change, which inevitably leaves them looking at the bigger picture. As the pile of tasks to deal with gets bigger as more is left to tomorrow, it’s easier to push it to next week, month, year or even decade. The evolving role of the CTO is also leading to increased pressure. 

As more businesses undertake digital transformation strategies, CTOs are expected to turn to leadership within the business and suggest solutions with an instant impact. There’s also greater focus on needing to know how technology affects the business, not just how it works in isolation.

CTOs may take comfort that companies across the board are likely to have legacy technology in place, sharing a mindset that when things go wrong, it’ll be the same for others. However, it’s a way of thinking they can’t afford to rely on.

Small but mighty

To legitimately ensure the organisation’s stability, CTOs need to pay as much attention to the smaller tasks as they do the big transformational changes. This starts with having a rigorous diligent process by understanding where the business is today and looking for any weak spots. CTOs need to look towards specialist solutions provided by the right vendor. Adoption of a configuration management tool allows CTOs to have oversight of the whole IT suite, which can identify and track changes against a defined set of policies and flag deviances for rectification.

Policies that are devised from the Center for Internet Security (CIS) guidelines mean that CTOs have an established standard of security measures to work against, facilitating visibility and control to make required changes and pursue a continuous improvement strategy by achieving best practice configuration. For critical legacy applications that need to make the successful move to a newer operating system version, application compatibility packaging can allow them to be transplanted to an on-premise, hybrid or cloud system without need for code modifications.

The continuous cycle

Implementing a repair to an IT suite isn’t a quick fix. CTOs are typically overseeing projects that are required to bring an application, server, or system up to date with the task then considered finished. 

But after so long, they can find themselves back where they started. Hence why it’s critical to take a comprehensive approach: adopt a range of technologies and practices to ensure regular upkeep and progression continues.

Saturated with buzzwords, the IT industry can leave some CTOs following trends until the next hot topic arrives. Moving away from this mentality and adopting an ongoing innovation and regeneration cycle in business will allow them to balance new, exciting developments with keeping on track at the same time by overseeing the evergreen underlying critical processes.