As Chief Technology Officer for Atom Bank, Stewart Bromley has had a front-row seat on the fast-evolving role of a tech leader amid waves of process automation, the introduction of new tools, new concerns for digital security, and a relentless focus on driving value for customers and shareholders value.
These responsibilities can seem daunting, but to the right person using the right tools, it’s a privilege and career-driving force. Here, we present Bromley’s six best tips for CTO success in a rapidly changing business landscape.
Bromley shares insights during a recent PentaBAR CTO Talks discussion “The Role of a CTO in a Digital Bank,” joined by Pentalog Chief Platform Officer Cornel Fatulescu. The session included a wide-ranging conversation about what it takes to hold the top technology position at the UK’s first digital-only app-based bank and how other CTOs can benefit from Bromley’s experiences. Bromley shared his thoughts about CTO power, strategy, technical debt, agility, hiring challenges, tech trends, and more.
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Tip 1: Don’t undervalue the power of chief technology officers
CTOs shoulder the weight of accountability for all things tech within their companies, and many feel relentless pressure to do and deliver more than is possible. But instead of drowning in overwhelm, the right people using the right tools find that leadership is a privilege and career-driving force.
Bromley encourages other CTOs to never underestimate the importance of their positions as leaders in business and industry. “This is a leadership role,” he shares. “Don’t underestimate that you have to lead in this role. You’re a business leader; you’re there to help frame and deliver the overall business strategy. You’re there to inspire a lot of people, [and you] have that degree of influence and leadership to inspire, to shape, to drive.”
Staying agile and recognizing the privilege and power that comes along with the title of CTO is key to serving successfully and changing outcomes to favor shareholders, employees, and customers.
Tip 2: Business and technology strategy must give and take
Although strategies to business and tech often diverge even within the same companies, they should function as partners, not adversaries. In fact, at their best, business and tech strategy intertwine to create best practices for personal and corporate success.
“One informs the other,” Bromley confirms, citing the approach of Atom Bank. “We have a very business-orientated vision in terms of what the business is about, but, from a strategy perspective… the business strategy informs the technology strategy and the technology strategy informs the business strategy; they work hand-in-glove. They have to work absolutely synonymous.”
Tip 3: Embrace technical debt—the right way
Debt is a four-letter word in most circles, but every tech company takes on some technical debt; it’s just the nature of the business. Sacrificing perfection for speed to market is a gamble every company takes at one time or another, but it must be done in the right way to prevent future damage to the company and its reputation and products.
Savvy CTOs and company leaders must go into these decisions with eyes wide open, understanding that creating technical debt without grasping the true cost and without a way to dig the company out is a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, by consciously creating technical debt to increase speed to market when it matters and with a solid plan to eliminate it, companies can balance decisions and shortcuts in ways that keep systems operational, cost-effective, and adaptable while avoiding digging a hole they can’t get out of.
Tip 4: Prioritize corporate and technological agility
Corporate and technological agility matter, both for personnel and systems. “As a company, you can’t predict what that next battle is, but you can make sure you’ve got agility,” says Bromley. “Agility… is what’s really essential.”
The takeaway? Companies, leadership, employees, platforms, and technology itself must be agile enough to shift and change in order to deliver the best results to customers and shareholders. Finding the right balance between agility and cost efficiency helps form productive strategy, and it’s the job of CTOs to lead that charge as problem solvers.
Tip 5: Anticipate turnover while still empowering employees
Any manager will agree that one of the industry’s biggest pain points is hiring and retaining top people. Great employees gravitate toward companies with the best technology, but as they gain skills and become more valuable, they eventually move on to bigger opportunities—and away from employers that can’t offer better prospects. This creates a tech-wide fight for talent spurred by a lack of qualified candidates, resulting in a tug-of-war over skilled personnel.
At the same time, Bromley and other experts don’t advocate holding on to employees and company leadership for life. Bromley stresses that it’s vital to find the right person for the job at each specific stage of the company’s evolution. He warns that personnel—even leaders, including CTOs—who expect to remain in the same roles for years may lose their creativity and edge. Instead, with the tech industry moving so quickly and people and businesses pushing boundaries every day, leadership and positional duties need to shift and evolve too. This includes thoughtfully changing expectations, competencies, and leadership as the business and its needs progress.
Still, working within that constant shift of priorities and people, there’s a way to keep employees longer and continue to benefit from their expertise. Encouraging managers and directors to trust their staff and give them space to innovate and be creative allows employees to bloom into the best versions of themselves, advancing the company and shareholders with their ideas.
“Hire talented people and set them free; don’t try and manage them,” Bromley says. “They are brilliant at what they do. Set them free and don’t constrain them.”
Tip 6: Tech trends don’t need to be all-new
It’s hard to identify future trends, and predicting business trends is especially complicated. However, experts like Bromley forecast a near future filled with more effective uses of current tools and technologies.
Rather than a bevy of new tech, companies that focus on increasing the capabilities of existing applications and software will likely perform best in the marketplace. The cloud, automation in code and code development, tools, and voice control capabilities are all in some stage of becoming standard but still have a long way to go. Harnessing existing tech and finding new and creative ways to make it more useful and user-friendly is what Bromley sees as the best way forward.
“We’re only scratching the surface of [those] capabilities,” Bromley shares, encouraging other CTOs to consider the challenges and possibilities in a future where infrastructure isn’t owned but code and software is—and runs the world.
For CTOs, understanding the power and promise of leadership and the complexities of tech strategy, corporate agility, and business best practices can mean the difference between stagnation and success. But that knowledge is hard-won and easy to pass over in the busyness of daily business. Learning from others and melding their experiences into ours can help us better ourselves as leaders for more empowered careers and successful companies.