Original by Mitchel Lewis at Medium (reproduced with permission)
Summary: “As such and if your CTO isn’t actively moving tooling out of the Microsoft ecosystem like bailing water out of a sinking ship, then you should probably be looking for a new CTO.”
Leadership of public companies have one job: maximize shareholder value. Although the roles and governance of executives can vary wildly, CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, CSOs, and CTOs all operate in capacities that serve as a means to maximize value in their own way. Try as they might to muddy the waters and minimize this objective with discussions of ethically grounded missions and humanitarian causes, this is all done for PR purposes and executives of major corporations could be fired, fined, and possibly even thrown in jail for placing anything above shareholder value. It is their fiduciary duty; their modus operandi; their north star; their prime directive; their alpha and omega; their mecca; their great white buffalo; their holiest of holies; etc etc.
Since competitive trade is a form of war that is won with efficiency, CTOs, in particular, are tasked primarily with outfitting their company with the most efficient, secure, and reliable (dare I say best?) tools available in an effort to give their company a competitive advantage against their market competition. Quality isn’t cheap nor is it very objective in a world dominated by pervasive marketing where everyone markets themselves as the best, so a bevy of experience, tact, and research is required to navigate these waters successfully. In their world, minor insights can save millions while minor mistakes can cost millions just the same. Put simply, it’s the CTOs job to maximize shareholder value by constantly optimizing their tooling in favor of efficiency and revenue per employee metrics.
Ironically, the IT solutions that are the most complex, least secure, most unreliable, and most expensive over their lifespan, the worst solutions if you will, tend to be inexpensive upfront while the best solutions tend to be their inverse in that they are the simplest, most secure, most reliable, and least expensive over time tend to have higher financial burdens for entry. In comparison to the worst solutions, the best solutions also tend to be more agreeable for end users which maximizes revenue per employee while also minimizing downtime, the #1 IT expense for most organizations, along with reducing the labor required to maintain said technology to prevent downtime which is the #2 IT expense for most organizations; the initial cost of hardware and software licensing is a distant 3rd.
Based on this alone, one might expect that executive decision-makers in IT to be keeping companies on the simplest, most secure, and most reliable solutions available but this is hardly the case. Despite sparing no expense on IT and having grizzled veterans at the helm, anyone working in corporate America can confirm that the opposite often appears to be true. Almost as if they have pedestrians at the helm, most corporations can be found locked into a complicated hellscape of poorly implemented and virtually unsupportable IT solutions with a hodgepodge of cloud solutions that barely work while paying 3–5x more than they should be for their IT infrastructure as a consequence of all of this. In turn, this artificially limits user productivity and requires them to employ more people than they would otherwise have to if they were standardized on more efficient tooling; better tooling, less labor.
For example and even though both Apple and Linux solutions have been humbling Microsoft solutions for decades by generating anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 of their ownership costs over their lifespan, you can still find that most major corporations and small-medium businesses are standardized on Microsoft solutions as if the opposite were true. In most scenarios, Microsoft solutions create more downtime, require more labor to implement and maintain, and are generally more complicated and more expensive than their market competition. In fact and when remembering that the majority of IT expenses occur after purchase, there is so much of a quality disparity between Microsoft solutions and their market competition that they often still wouldn’t financially competitive even if their licensing costs were free.
“Put simply, the implementation of Microsoft solutions puts any company at a significant competitive disadvantage from the perspectives of productivity and reliability while leaving them vulnerable to security breaches in comparison to competitors in the same market that are standardized on more efficient and secure Linux and/or Apple solutions.”Oddly enough, even when comparing Microsoft and Apple, both of which are standardized on their products, you’ll find that Apple generates 2–3x more revenue per employee on an enterprise scale. Although purely a coincidence, when IBM made the move over to the Apple ecosystem in 2016, they noticed their total ownership costs reduce to 1/3 that of their PC infrastructure. In doing this, support cases along with the requisite labor, downtime, and degraded productivity associated with them dropped dramatically as well when compared to their PC infrastructure. As far as CTOs are concerned, this is
On top of the added costs from downtime and labor inherent to standardizing on Windows, 99% of all ransomware attacks occur on Windows while half of all of their users in their vulnerable cloud services are actively being poked and prodded by various exploits and attacks at any given time. Microsoft solutions are also the most exploited in the industry and require more ancillary services and layers of defense to fortify their integrity which introduces even more complexity into the environment while reducing convenience and driving costs even higher. Put simply, the implementation of Microsoft solutions puts any company at a significant competitive disadvantage from the perspectives of productivity and reliability while leaving them vulnerable to security breaches in comparison to competitors in the same market that are standardized on more efficient and secure Linux and/or Apple solutions.
When considering the fiduciary duty of CTOs along with the the financial and operational shortcomings of Microsoft solutions in today’s market, one might think that a large component of a CTOs role is to avoid Microsoft solutions altogether as if they were sitting in a box labeled “COVID-19 Mucus Samples” or at the very least keeping their implementation to a minimum, and they would be right to some degree. But Microsoft’s market position indicates that this is clearly not happening and Microsoft PCs along with their sketchy suites of productivity and server software persist as the industry standard when no objective measure can merit such a reception.
From another angle, it seems as if the vast supermajority of CTOs are failing miserably at fulfilling their fiduciary duty by continuing to militantly implement Microsoft solutions to the point of them being the status quo throughout industry. There could be several potential reasons for this, sheer ignorance possibly being one of them.
At the level of CTO, one might think that an aptitude with the philosophy of technology, IT architecture, and IT finance is skills is must, but as is the case elsewhere in life, it’s often more of a question of who you know, how loyal you are, and how well they tow the company line in these positions. As such, many of those being paid to be experts in IT architecture and finance as a CTO is may not be as polished as they’d like you to believe. Although it may be news to people who don’t live and breathe IT finance and architecture that the majority of IT expenses occur after purchase and that focusing on initial price alone is a fool’s game, such understanding is fundamental in the realms of accounting and architecting information technology.
Alternatively, it could also be a simple case of bygones in leadership positions and old habits dying hard. To their credit, there was a time when the above was not true about Microsoft solutions and their dominant market position was earned but those days are gone. Despite working in technology, a word that is almost synonymous with change, anyone in the industry can recall instances with people with a devout preference for the status quo and an overt fear of change; especially among leadership; regardless of how sound the math is. CTO or not, like it or not, we tend to become bygones as we age and the continued prominence of Microsoft products could be a consequence of the tendency of CTOs to be of an older demographic *cough* boomers *cough*.
Another possibility is that they could also be conflicted. Rather than having to learn new technology and architecture, decision-makers can also ensure both their relevance and necessity by continuing to deploy solutions that require their expertise. Those with decades of experience in the Microsoft ecosystem can ensure both their continued relevance and necessity by continuing to implement these products while embracing newer technologies that they’re unfamiliar with can put them at a competitive disadvantage. Just as consultants recommend solutions that generate further necessity for their services, CTOs could be doing the same.
To be fair, CTOs are humans prone to error and technical change is also hard. In the world of enterprise change, it can often feel as if users are so change-averse that they will hate you regardless of whether you deliver them a better solution or a worse one just the same and this is often true. Over time, the pushback one can get from employees and execs by simply trying to improve employee and company efficiency can be astounding. In turn, this pushback can wear on the best of us and suffocate the ambition of entire IT departments.
“…it’s foolish to expect an unambitious CTO to radically change both their mindset and philosophy towards technology at the pinnacle of their career, let alone at their average senior age.”After all, why try to make things better when people resent you for it and potentially jeopardize your job when you can instead safely maintain the status quo and have people praise you for fixing the same problem on a daily basis like some nerdy version of Groundhogs Day? However, mitigating this kind of change apathy is part of the job and those that fail to do so consequently fail to do their job effectively. Although enterprise change is difficult and not for the faint of heart, no one said it was easy, this is why they make the big bucks, and they can always quit if they don’t like it.
Regardless of their reasoning, it isn’t difficult to determine which category your CTO falls into though; it’s just a career limiting move. For example and if your CTO can’t even tell you the proper order of IT expenses, then they’re most likely ignorant; chances are they won’t even be able to tell you what technology is. If they’re spouting off old debunked rhetoric about Apple or Linux solutions not having a place in the enterprise in response to the mere notion of implementing Apple or Linux solutions, then they’re most likely a bygone. And if they’re compromised, then they’ll likely avoid this conversation altogether or become incredibly petulant when cornered on the subject.
But whether they’re some combination of an ignorant, jaded, and compromised bygone is of little consequence as the result is still the same regardless of the road they travel on. That said, CTOs are seemingly failing to fulfill their fiduciary duties throughout industry by continuing to implement Microsoft and other antiquated solutions as if they were everything that they clearly are not. Few seem to have the chutzpah to adhere to their fiduciary duty to the point of obsoleting themselves and jeopardizing their relevance by implementing better solutions beyond their expertise.
In summary, it’s the primary role of a CTO to give their company a competitive advantage by ensuring that it has the most efficient tooling which many in these roles are failing at presently. Given Microsoft’s market stance and prominence throughout industry and since the name Microsoft is effectively anti-correlated with word quality while their products lack a competitive advantage or value proposition, a large component of a modern CTOs job is naturally to reduce Microsoft’s footprint within their infrastructure as much as possible and replace their tools with better alternatives from Apple, Linux, and the like; which again, many are failing at. Reasons such as this are why Microsoft has had to resort to the lock-in and anti-competitive tactics that they became notorious for
As such and if your CTO isn’t actively moving tooling out of the Microsoft ecosystem like bailing water out of a sinking ship, then you should probably be looking for a new CTO. Just as it’s a fool’s game to emphasize on initial price instead of the total cost of ownership or to expect the tired solutions produced by a tired monopoly propped up by the same tired lawyers to magically get better by several orders of magnitude any time soon, it’s foolish to expect an unambitious CTO to radically change both their mindset and philosophy towards technology at the pinnacle of their career, let alone at their average senior age. Many have generous exit packages while countless people under their employment have been let go under similar performance-related circumstances, so they shouldn’t take it personally. █
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