Summary

Having spent a couple of days at the CTO Summit in San Francisco as a presenter and attendee, I can report that tech industry giants are talking about a few common themes:

1.  Culture

This was the single biggest focal point for each of the speakers. There was a great story about cultural development from the CTO of Groupon: They have a red/yellow/green card system for his developers. Yellow cards are for process infractions or breaking functionality in the system; they can even be subsequently barred from promoting code into production until things are resolved. Red cards are for more major problems, like bringing services down or security breaches. Green cards, which are earned for great code and on-time delivery, are a badge of honor, which drives competition.

There’s also a huge emphasis on innovation and invention, running hackathons regularly (96 hours of consecutive coding over five days, every six months), which includes external speakers and of course awards for the greatest innovations. One worthy winner of such an award actually deleted 250,000 lines of code from some of their services, making them more stable, easier to maintain and more secure. Very cool, Groupon.

2.  Trust

Salesforce’s VP of Engineering told the audience that companies will not work with you if they do not 'trust you'. Building a culture of trust internally as an individual or team and externally with customers is paramount; do this through on-time delivery, quality of delivery, and meeting expectations. The City of Palo Alto’s Chief Inspiration Officer suggests creating your vision, then codifying it into everything. In other words, stay true to your vision and ensure everything that you create is a reflection of that vision.

Building a culture of trust internally as an individual or team and externally with customers is paramount.

Building a culture of trust internally as an individual or team and externally with customers is paramount.

3.  User Experience

The landscape for content delivery is changing dramatically; users/consumers expect mobility and freedom of choice in how they obtain value from any given company. The CTO for Electronic Arts (EA) describes how the demographics of game playing has changed over the past few years, forcing new delivery methods and technology to support these needs.

EA used engagement as a metric of success for this new technology…how long has a gamer played for, how often, how many interaction points within the game have they reached? By understanding those engagement metrics, they have built dynamic player experiences, customizing the user experience to an almost individual level, delivering emotion through the capabilities of the game, and by removing friction points to progress.

4.  Security

Unanimously this was the single biggest concern for all attendees, with all of the scaling and new channels for customer interaction come great challenges to secure the infrastructure, protecting both the organization and the customers. Salesforce employ a security-first mindset, each and every person should think of themselves as a Chief Security Officer (CSO) in their own right. That way security is everyone’s responsibility. Contrast this with the perspective from CTO and Director of the UN Development Program, where establishing infrastructure in some of our world’s poorest countries presents some entirely unique challenges.

In this way, security becomes inextricably linked with all three of previous points:

  • By building a security first culture and embedding it into everyone’s day job, you can ensure it is not an afterthought, a hindrance to getting product out of the door.
  • It links to trust since without security, no one will trust in the product or service you are building.
  • Poorly designed and integrated security leads to a poor user experience; to use the terminology from EA, they become friction points, which in turn put people off and maybe even pushes them away from your product.
  • Security is essential but by the same token, should be seamless and unobtrusive.

 

When I compare how GE is marching into the digital realm, we can readily identify with each sentiment as we are transforming our company into a digital industrial—focusing on culture, trust, user experience and security—to meet our customers’ needs and expectations.  

Where does your company stand on these four themes? 

The landscape for content delivery is changing dramatically; users/consumers expect mobility and freedom of choice in how they obtain value from any given company.

About the author

Rich Phillips

Chief Architect—CTO Office, GE Aviation

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