AI will change the roles of tech leaders. What should you look for in your next CTO ?

15 Apr 2021

AI will change the roles of tech leaders. What should you look for in your next CTO ?

"Companies will adopt AI—not just because they can, but because they must," "AI is the technology that will help businesses to be agile, innovate, and scale.”

IDC predicts that spending on AI will jump from $50.1 billion in 2020 to more than $110 billion in 2024. The CTO role, most common in technology-driven product and services companies, is becoming increasingly complex. Already tasked with a wide brief including developing the technology vision for the business, leading R&D and defining the roadmap for product delivery, CTO’s are now faced with the impact of AI.

Our recent report from Germany, Applied Intelligence for Boards, says:

“Having just adapted to an increasing share of software in offerings, many CTOs are now stretched with the further switch to AI. On the other hand, those who have mastered the challenge are a key pillar of the AI transformation and can be a superb competitive assets for company boards.”

Executing AI Strategies

A good understanding of AI by your CTO is needed to creatively envision what its integration in your existing products can do.

AI needs to be incorporated into your technology roadmap, and systematic, long-term development and application plans for AI need be created and executed. While starting with a pilot is sensible, AI pilots can be deceptively easy while scaling to production becomes fiendishly hard.

For example, algorithms require training data to improve and scale, so software and data must be coupled, requiring a new set of suitable tools which are not yet widely available. Thus, in contrast to traditional software products, changes in input data and code are not independent, complicating the develop­ment, testing, and maintenance processes required for scaling. Meanwhile, version control processes tracking the data sets used for AI system training are critical to understanding how the AI system has evolved.

Many factors need to be considered in applying AI to existing software; safety critical processes require minute scrutiny of the choice of included data. E.g. to offer cyber security would need sophisticated testing and continual adaptation to an evolving area of threat.

Technology scouting

Technology scouting has grown to become a central responsibility in today’s CTO role. A company’s ability to innovate can be greatly advanced by integrating with the right technology and partner. But first, assessment of the right capabilities and resources is fundamental to integrating AI within any company’s product landscape and development process.

What aspects of your AI roadmap can be brought to the development table by pursuing capability in-house? Should you invest in your own team or outsource? This will ideally be a joint decision between your HR head, CFO, CEO and CTO, strongly informed by the CTO’s knowledge and research. 

The intertwining of data and algorithms also means that procured AI software is not plug-and-play. Complex partnership structures are required to handle vendor relationships where the success of an AI system and its outcomes is intertwined with your own data and their evolution. Understanding and potentially sharing IP ownership also requires clarity. 

“Working with an AI startup is likely a necessity at this early stage of the industry’s evolution for most enterprises. But navigating the wealth of AI startups to identify players that will be around tomorrow and share the same destination is difficult.”

Simon Greenman, partner, Best Practice AI

If your decision is for outsourcing/partnership, emerging tech must be researched and tracked to keep up with moving trends and innovations so you remain competitive and relevant.

What areas should be scouted?

The almost immeasurable volume of information and diversity of technology are now a substantial challenge to keep in touch with. Starting with clear insight into where you can gain value through AI means turning on your internal floodlights.

Your CTO will need widespread support within your organisation to gain this insight. It will involve good relationships with other business leaders in-house.

“The CTO can face unprecedented changes in value drivers and features when AI is integrated with product offerings.” 

The antennae for predicting upcoming customer needs, and hence your opportunities, lie beyond your R&D team. Gaps in product capability need to be identified, probably involving employees in various areas. Additionally, an eager data culture infused in your company will alert people throughout your departments to notice customer problems, which, if resolved with tech/AI, could lead to a lucrative opportunity.

There is a prolific and morphing world of technology and AI-enabled solutions; where an astute and supported CTO will make the right choices.

Before you collaborate

Once you’ve decided to partner with an external vendor, the advantages and disadvantages of this to your AI capability must be weighed up. Deep knowledge of how a partnership or outsourced technology will interpret and use your data in relationship to your goals is crucial. A CTO needs to know who to look to for a dedicated, synergistic and reliable partnership.

What else is important when looking for an AI partnership?

Like all new tech companies, AI vendors eagerly amplify the ultimate end user benefit to using their software.

Though AI has moved from emerging to established status, many providers are still in the start-up rank. An MMC Ventures, London report in 2019 revealed that 40% of European companies who were classified as AI start-ups were actually not offering AI.            

They looked at companies’ materials, products, websites and product documents and found no evidence of AI in many. (No surprise that when a company is labelled as in AI, they attract 15% to 50% more funding than other tech firms.) It goes without saying that due diligence is called for when researching your AI partner.

Executive search in the Tech sector goes way beyond recruitment.

Despite the continuing advances in tech and AI, we still need able humans to interpret and manage all aspects of their utilisation. Finding the leaders that are ideally suited to your specific needs and company culture is our specialty. Our technology team has hands on experience at a top level in the tech industry, giving you the advantage of insight and experience of what it takes to lead your technology/AI strategies.

With our unrivalled executive search experience and high level of expertise, we apply finesse and subtlety to our human interactions, building the relationships that keep us in touch with top talent. Trust us to introduce you to your next CTO who will bring you to the future you aspire to.


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