The best CTOs and CIOs enable companies to see around corners and anticipate the future. They are the ones grappling with how AI and the cloud will transform their enterprises, industries and disrupt markets; how technology needs to be incorporated into daily workflows to satisfy a changing workforce; and how to improve product development to stay ahead of changing market forces. TCV has been fortunate to build strong relationships with top CIOs and CTOs in Silicon Valley and beyond and these relationships offer us a deep understanding of how these leaders think, plan, and execute to build companies of lasting value and impact.
Once again this fall, we hosted 36 technology executives, including founders, chief product officers, TCV partners, and — of course — CTOs and CIOs, at TCV’s annual CTO/CIO Summit in Half Moon Bay, CA. The summit is an opportunity to build peer relationships, learn from shared experiences, and discuss top-of-mind issues facing these leaders.
For us, the most important part of the two-day event was gaining a deeper understanding of both the challenges and opportunities technology executives need to balance, including:
- There is a shortage of qualified individuals available to execute on digital transformation
- Security is a constant threat/distraction, and fraud in particular
- Consumerization of IT/products: a desire to improve outcomes through simplifying and consolidating processes
- How to orchestrate the “Move to the Cloud” in a strategic manner.
Our agenda centered around the task of digital transformation. Other topics we discussed included low-code development, machine learning, UI/UX, and a futurist’s view of technology deployment.
Highlights from the event included:
EA CTO Ken Moss spoke about how players’ rising expectations have transformed the gaming industry. Facing an explosion in platforms for both creating and playing, Moss explained why being a good CTO means not letting digital transformation become digital chaos. He prioritizes finding and fielding a blend of technology and culture that brings together more than 30 different studios across EA to share a central development engine without limiting their creativity or productivity. “The job of a central tech team is difficult because you have to do that while getting 9,000 people to want to work with you,” Moss said. Building trust is key, and that means getting “down in the trenches” with coders from time to time. Moss is implementing systems to assess EA’s teams and employees and helping drive a constant dialog about how and when to raise the bar. “We can’t be the company we are now in four years,” he said, and that’s both the challenge and the excitement surrounding digital transformation.
Don Schuerman is the CTO of Pegasystems, a $4 billion company that uses low-code or no-code approaches to accelerate technology development. He shared his thoughts with TCV General Partner Kapil Venkatachalam, explaining why it makes sense to leave coding languages behind and working with visual metaphors to create applications: “If I can focus on defining the business logic of a problem, using software vs. focusing on the actual code itself, I can move faster and create better software for the user.” He cited a study finding that the acceleration could reach 7X but noted that the bigger value comes from a tighter link between developer and user. “The act of writing the user story triggers the generation of the software.” To thrive with the low-code/no-code approach, don’t treat it as “another cool acceleration tool” for coders – get business people into the room, with their hands on the keyboard. Another lesson: think big but start small because no-code/low-code is ideal for rapid development of specific functionality that can be combined or replicated into bigger systems.
Tech leaders, including Don Madden from Alarm.com, Jesse Rothstein from ExtraHop, and Paul Gu from Upstart, joined TCV General Partner Ted Coons to share their experiences with machine learning for surveillance, anomaly detection, and consumer credit. They cautioned that there is a lot of hype about AI and to remember that machine learning requires human learning, either from historical data or through constant refinement of your processes. The panelists concurred that data quality is fundamental; organizations struggle with machine learning when working with loosely structured or unlabeled data. They also shared some practical tips. When labeling and structuring data, give that task to people you trust and rotate it around, so no one burns out. It’s also a good idea to adapt techniques that have proven successful in other contexts, rather than starting from scratch. If you hire PhDs to build sophisticated models, make sure you pair them with veteran coders who can scale the models so they’re practical for a real-world business. Finally, set clear expectations for developers: if they’re working with users’ personal data, they might need to be background-checked and write extensive documentation to satisfy regulators concerned with data security in the cloud.
Shannon Holloway, SVP at IQMS, Joe Inzerillo, CTO of BAMTech, Loïc Vienne, CIO of Datto, and Amit Agarwal, CPO of Datadog, discussed how to leverage IT transformation for better decision-making, recognizing that IT departments have to get out in front of their own companies to become transformative. While it’s long been considered smart to use the technology you developed for customers inside your own company, it’s also important to factor in ongoing feedback from customers to provide better experiences and outcomes. The panel also agreed that IT transformation works best when you get buy-in from senior management to disrupt your own company. Moving IT functions to the cloud is not disruptive by itself, they noted, and sometimes it’s not even the right decision. If you do move key functions to the cloud, be prepared: the go-live day is not the end, it’s the beginning of learning how to make a shared resource transformative for your business.
The cloud was clearly on everyone’s minds during the CTO/CIO summit, so Sean Giese opened a session with Dan Brown, Chief Product Officer of FinancialForce, to address the future of the cloud head-on. After giving some memorable examples of how the cloud has accelerated access to information for consumer and companies alike, Dan pointed out that the high level of innovation in cloud-based services is accompanied by an equally high level of specificity. People can create a cloud-based app in an hour – but it’s likely to be for a very small user community. When scaling for a global user base, the need for sophisticated architecture is increasing, particularly when that service has to feel local for people in 100 countries. That raises the bar for talent. It also requires “deeper, value-based partnerships with customers,” because while it’s easy to change your business model in the cloud, the cloud also makes it easy for customers to leave you for a competitor.
For our final session, we asked Audrey Crane of DesignMap to address a question that often arises in our portfolio companies: what do business leaders need to know about design? According to the most recent Design Value Index study, design-centric companies significantly outperformed the S&P500 in market value between 2005 and 2015 which emphasized Crane’s point that “Design Matters.” Crane explained that this results from a mammoth increase in consumer experience of high-design-value products and services. With nearly 90% of companies surveyed by Gartner saying that customer experience will be their primary differentiator, design has become essential to improving that experience. So how do CTOs and CIOs do that? Make design quality a priority for development, make sure developers are exposed to customer experiences early and often, and always evaluate their work from the point of view of differentiating through design.
We are grateful for all the valuable insights our speakers shared with attendees and the TCV community we strive to create. We look forward to exploring new topics and connections during our next TCV event.