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Modernisation: tech leaders have their say

Modernisation: tech leaders have their say


There’s nothing like bringing together a roomful of senior tech leaders to share their seasoned – and impartial – advice on what it takes to create an effective modernisation strategy. But that’s exactly what we did at a recent Breakfast Meeting held at the Groucho Club in Soho.

Our invited frontline experts were able to network and converse in a pitch-free workshop environment where the focus was on their shared challenges and experiences at unlocking modernisation success. 

These group discussions, facilitated by Grant Smith, Michael Seipp, Matthew Penhall, Zane and me from 101 Ways, generated valuable insights on how to navigate the tricky intersection between business and technology transformation. Which is why we’ve decided to distil and share their collective knowledge and advice here.

Drawn from a variety of sectors – retail, travel, media, publishing, utilities and more – over the years these tech leaders have spearheaded multiple modernisation programmes. We hope their candid insights will help guide you on how to catalyse modernisation in your organisation.

Let’s take a look at the key things these CTOs say you should keep in mind.

Educate senior leadership – be clear on what, why and how

Gaining C-suite stakeholders buy-in is a must have. But as our experts explained, more often than not CEOs and CFOs view modernisation as primarily an IT issue. In addition to this, everyone agreed that C-suite executives also typically view modernisation as an expensive, complex and potentially disruptive activity.

To help shift this perspective, tech leaders should carefully consider which technologies will best suit the long term critical needs of the business and create a technology roadmap that can be presented to C-suite stakeholders. Your task here is to breakdown the wider modernisation vision and create an execution strategy that balances current performance risk with future transformation benefits.

Education is key when it comes to gaining the support of C-suite stakeholders. So senior leaders will need to be presented with a clear overview of the problems you are trying to solve, why it’s important to resolve these, and how you plan to do this. 

As part of this process, you’ll need to highlight the risks of doing nothing (increasing cost of supporting ageing tech, loss of agility, falling behind competitors) and the potential business outcomes that are up for grabs.

Important here is to share any learnings from the past. When building your pitch narrative, make sure you share what’s been learnt from previous mistakes and how you plan to address these issues in the future.

Think big, act small

Everyone in the room agreed that the days of embarking on massive 5-year transformation programmes are long gone. Today’s CEOs and CFOs are highly cost and risk sensitive and keen to minimise any unnecessary disruption to business operations.

To win their support and backing, you’ll need to define a more iterative modernisation journey. One that takes a long term view and features a number of small discreet deliverables. The aim of the game being to deliver fast, build confidence, rinse and repeat.

This approach will ensure that CFOs can budget with more certainty and control, evaluating delivery value along the way. Meanwhile, CEOs gain the reassurance of knowing that business continuity won’t be compromised and that operational changes can be appropriately managed.

Our tech leaders were keen to emphasise that C-suite stakeholders also need to be educated on why modernisation shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘one off’ activity. The pace of technological advancement today means that constant change and evolution is now the order of the day. 

Your role is to ensure they are able to make smart and informed decisions about the best way to evolve and adapt on an ongoing basis, and which technology trends are ripe for adoption.

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Celebrate milestones

Given that C-suite IT investment decisions need to be validated in the context of business value creation, CTOs should celebrate and publicise the completion of significant initiatives and milestones and clearly communicate any key outcomes achieved.

Building this final story will be essential for facilitating ongoing and future conversations across the wider executive team. So, alongside outlining your strategy, make sure executives that helped facilitate its delivery are named and recognised, together with the resulting business benefits they accrued as a result.

Like it or not, creating compelling narratives that help board members join the dots and understand the value of a well-executed modernisation strategy is a must have for CTOs who want to ensure their message is heard at the top table. Winning future buy-in – and budget – depends upon it.

The importance of making allies and building productive relationships with key C-suite personnel, such as the CEO and CFO, is vital for getting modernisation done. But our experts acknowledged that this can sometimes prove a challenging proposition.

Be realistic – take the long view

Everyone in the room agreed that grand modernisation plans will be scuppered by business realities. Initiatives fail to get greenlighted, funding can be intermittent or less than expected. As a result, change programmes can stall or take longer than expected. Frustrations aside, this means it’s rare for CTOs to achieve a smooth working methodology for underpinning continual modernisation.

Those that have ‘been there, done that’ highlighted the futility of striving to stay up to date with the latest trends. Instead, they advocate becoming a pragmatic ‘fast follower’ who evaluates new technologies to see which will truly add value to your organisation. Ideally, implementing only when these have been tried and tested by others.

In parallel, it’s important to keep abreast of evolving organisational needs so you can identify where modernisation would generate maximum benefits. To do this, they recommend building close alliances with all key business stakeholders to ensure your modernisation strategy is fully aligned with evolving business needs. Ultimately, this means that everyone will agree on what the short and longer term priorities are. Plus, these individuals will become powerful advocates of your modernisation strategy.

Bring your people along on the journey

Responsible for leading and managing large technology teams, CTOs need to demonstrate strong expertise across a broad range of technical domains and be capable of spotting opportunities for innovation. They also need to guide and foster consensus across their teams. No easy task when modernisation activities mean that these personnel are exposed to frequent changes.

Our experts highlighted the importance of making sure you bring everyone along on the journey at a pace that’s comfortable for them. To do this, you’ll need to be an empathetic listener, an effective communicator, a strong collaborator, and a trusted mentor and guide.

While modernisation has the potential to deliver tremendous benefits, not everyone will find it easy to accept change. To address this issue, make sure the right training and transitioning planning is in place as early as possible so you can ensure your workforce is brought forward with any technology transformation.

Could a workshop help your teams accelerate your journey (whatever stage you’re on)? Let us know and we’ll invite you along to the next one! Email us at


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