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July 2, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 2:31pm

5 unconventional business lessons for CTOs

Outsmart the competition with these surprising strategies.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Human intuition is a fickle faculty. Sometimes it leads you to exactly what you want, for reasons that are quite mysterious to you. Other times you find your common sense, for all its popularity, is idiocy. So here are some lessons from IT that might surprise you.

1) Leave your business vulnerable to credit card fraud

One might have apprehensions about hiring a man who extols the virtues of credit card fraud to handle your company’s payments, but in the case of Simon Black, chief executive of Sage Pay, this would be unwise.

As with everything in life, security is subject to trade-offs. These include not only the cost of implementing protocols and technology to protect your business, but the inconvenience to customers. "Experiencing no fraud may mean controls are too tight and legitimate transactions are being rejected," Black said.

"Although it can be tempting to tighten security controls in the face of fraud, it is worth keeping in mind that for every extra action a consumer is asked to make, you are prolonging the customer journey and therefore increasing the risk that the customer will drop out of the buying process."

Anyone dismayed at Symantec’s admission that "antivirus is dead" would have been even more panicked by Eddie Schwartz, who actively advised companies to let bad guys past perimeter defences.

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"We’ve created what looks like the semblance of security and the bad guys pretty much drive around the perimeter and do whatever they want," he said. "We’ve invested so much money in checklists, perimeter security and securing things that are not that important, that there’s not much money left for anything else."

Not only are the second level defences and the resultant segmenting far more effective at securing sensitive data, they also allow security experts to analyse the attack patterns of hackers, better preparing them to for future breaches – which will happen.


Calling today’s markets "more competitive than ever" is a cliché that is rarely guarded against, usually leading advisors to tell people they need to push technology faster in order to beat the competition.

But pushing too fast too soon can set back technology not only within a company but in an entire sector. Speaking at a Bloomberg summit about Google’s driverless cars, US transport regulator David Friedman warned the search engine against relentless progress. "If anyone messes up the technology the first time, it can set the technology back for decades to come," he said.

The issue is not merely one of regulation, but also public confidence. Humans have an established apprehension with new forms of transport, and fear of innovation can prevent the widespread adoption and economies of scale necessary for it to be viable.


Techies often get into the industry by preferring machines to people, so we shouldn’t be much surprised that the industry tends to be obsessed with the latest gadgets.

As Martin Sugden, chief executive of security firm Boldon James, said: "Users take up your time and make your life difficult." Technology also has what appears to be a more predictable rate of return, and unlike labour it cannot abandon you for a better job offer.

Yet Tony Williams found while he was streamlining the Greater Manchester Commissioning Support Unit for the NHS that what made the difference was not the shiny new software. Combining veterans with digital natives he managed to slash the cost of managing the service desk. "It’s definitely the people who made this happen," he said.


Automation has been an increasing worry for many workers, with a number of scare reports predicting mass joblessness over the next couple of decades. Yet the people supervising the robots should have no worries, right?

Not so, according to former BT CTO Peter Cochrane. "IT departments are going to die. They don’t provide the service [required], they’re not a patch on Google or anybody else. Everybody’s frustrated because nobody can do any work," he said. He predicted that IT professionals have five to ten years left within SMBs until their jobs are outsourced to Google.

Tech is not merely to encroach on the worker bees’ livelihoods, but has the potential to overtake anything that can benefit from specialisation. Those who cannot provide a better in-house service than their competition should start to worry.


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