CTO Sessions: Stephen Green, NTT

What makes an effective tech strategy? “An effective tech strategy is one that meets and enables the requirements of the business. There is no point in tech for tech’s sake…”

Headshot of Stephen Green, CTO at NTT

Name: Stephen Green

Company: NTT Ltd.

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: March 2020

Location: London, UK

Stephen Green is Chief Technology Officer for NTT Ltd., UK and Ireland, where he is responsible for Go To Markets and Alliances. He is a seasoned technologist having served in senior leadership positions for a number of technology companies including Dimension Data, Microsoft and VMware. Green has led a number of transformation projects for both clients and NTT itself, across a range of industries and domains. As a keen technologist and change agent, he is actively involved in client engagements working with them to drive innovation and cultural change. Outside work, Green enjoys astronomy, motor racing and bird watching.

What was your first job? My first job was as a retail store assistant manager. I took the position because one of the functions was responsibility for the IT systems. This gave me the foundation on which to build my IT career.

Did you always want to work in IT? Apart from a stint in the military I have always focused on IT.  

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I dropped out of university, sadly not to create a start-up and become famous, but because of financial difficulties. However, I made sure that I compensated for that at the time with vendor certifications. Today vendor certifications are sometimes more relevant than a degree because of the war on talent.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I’ve never stepped out of IT per se, but I have made two decisions that did not pan out or add any significant momentum to my aspiration which was to become a CTO. Having said that, after having licked my wounds, I resolved to only take the positive out of the situation and made sure that I understood the learnings from my decisions.

What type of CTO are you? My role continues to evolve all the time which makes it interesting. I started out as a hands-on developer type CTO engaging with dev teams and solution architects. This is an important foundation to have because you understand the complexity of getting difficult things done. Today I would still describe myself as hands-on. I still find myself in rooms debating enterprise architectures and API security but that happens more at an abstract level. Where I find the focus has moved to, especially post the pandemic, is around IT efficiency, effectiveness and how to deliver with speed. So strangely, I still have a very strong and solid technologist perspective of the world, but the softer aspects of accomplishing change and driving business outcomes are now a priority.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? At a geek level, I’m probably most excited about microservices, containers and serverless computing because I’ve always had a passion for UNIX and its microkernel approach. In a way, it stands out as a great example of what is starting to become mainstream in enterprise applications. Why this is such a significant development is because of the agility possible through re-use and componentisation. This ultimately demonstrates the value of exponential gains which describes where we are at this moment in time - we are seeing the maturing and value of a number of what were emerging technologies just a few years ago, come together into an outcome that will be a very significant inflection point for business and consumers.  It is this digital dividend that is going to enable the companies of the future. So, all up a very exciting time to be in the industry and to lead in a period where bold decisions are required to accelerate the dividend. 

When it comes to accelerating new technologies, the world of private 5G (P5G) is one that’s a great example of the above. We’re at the very edge, no pun intended, of the decision point. The companies that make the decision to move first and fast will derive the greatest benefit from early adoption but also from first to market benefits. Private 5G networks change the game for businesses and unlock an Edge to Cloud capability very quickly. In the short term, you accomplish a highly efficient, super-fast network with superior security that lives behind your firewall and where you control the data. Once implemented then the digital dividend kicks in and accelerated innovation at the edge allows you to create new services or even new companies to meet customer demand. We’ve seen this with the introduction of machine or computer vision as one example that has totally changed the optimisations possible in a production floor from safety to optimised business process and outcome to increased scale of service through virtual patient monitoring. All of this at a lower cost, lower power consumption and benefit to ESG.

Taking this step accelerates a company forward to unlocking “Industry 4.0” technologies and benefits because once you have a foundation in the benefits, such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, machine-to-machine communications, and the Internet of Things (IoT), all become the mainstream working environment.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I do agree that our industry gets excited about new technologies but given my experience I guide my customer to be suspect of “silver bullets”. What is critical for companies today is to understand and determine what the key building blocks are for being a future facing company. Once you understand and are moving in that direction you need to understand how a piece of hyped technology is going to fit into that equation. So, what is a little overhyped today? In my opinion, most things Quantum, Zero Trust and AI are a little exaggerated. Having said that, I very much subscribe to what is known as Amara’s law which states that we typically overestimate the impact of new technology in the short term, but totally underestimate its impact in the long term. Just think of the Internet as an example.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? There are a few, but here are two:

Launching the first globally available private LTE/5G Network-as-a-Service platform last year was a proud moment. With the purpose-built platform, we’re now supporting the fast-evolving needs of enterprises across industries, including automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail to create unprecedented alignment of data, connectivity, security, and communications.

Leading transformation change within NTT Ltd. UK&I and a number of our key clients. It has been great to see the success our clients are having because of our contribution to their vision and business outcomes.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I would say, very humbly, that NTT Ltd. is a reference case for what digital and business transformation means. NTT Ltd. was created three years ago with a focus on value creation for our clients. We understood at the time, that maintaining the status quo of our then businesses wasn’t going to be good enough. We had to do something different. In our case, we launched a start-up business created by merging several companies together that could unlock the value of Edge to Cloud by combining key assets that would represent leap-frog capabilities for our clients. I am of the firm belief that most companies in operation today will have to go through a similar transformation to survive and accelerate. This will require bold decisions to leave the legacy behind and this is where I spend a lot of time working with our clients to demonstrate the how of the why. For NTT Ltd. the transformation included all three factors. We needed to demonstrate relevancy to our clients and value from our services – we rebuilt all our service offerings with a cost, efficiency, and security lens. Our services accelerate our clients on their digital transformation. As a business, this meant that we had to rethink the way that we were organised and how we got things done. Therefore, we restructured the business, integrated key parts to create building blocks for our clients, and totally streamlined our internal business processes to ensure efficiency and that journey of optimising continues. Bringing that outcome to our clients now will drive their experience outcome which in turn will look after the revenue growth objectives of our business.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Based on customer engagement there are two top issues. The first is coming to terms with how the pandemic has completely changed how we think about and what we call work. Work is no longer a place you go to, it is now something that you do. The priority is focusing on what each client’s work is and then determining how technologies can enable that outcome. Given how quickly we formulate habits an interesting aspect of this is how we define and measure productivity in the context of hybrid work. Productivity becomes super important when being present at the office is no longer the metric but rather what and how you produce an outcome and then how that outcome adds value to the company. Of course, other elements to this are understanding the social impacts of hybrid work and more importantly the personal, mental and physical wellbeing of our staff given these pressures. For example, we can see that people’s corporate networks, critical for getting things done, are diminished so the question becomes how to address this important aspect of being part of a hybrid company. In our case, we are creating both hybrid and physical engagements that have a purpose and tangible outcome. Another is not to have meetings about a meeting, but rather meetings where we work and deliver an outcome. At a technology level, the criticality of the network and an evolving security posture become important requirements, so we find ourselves helping clients relook at their networks and security tools not to mention evolving the concept of legacy style meeting rooms.

The second area is dealing with the complexity and intensity of IT delivery backlogs. We can see IT departments breaking under the load with no clear answer so clearly, there is a different approach required. An interesting observation is that because things can be done does not mean that they must be done. So I am working with CIOs and CTOs to align with the business at a strategic and business outcome level and to understand what IT projects are critical to the fast track delivery of key business outcomes. An important part of this is demonstrating how our services can be used to rapidly turn off the legacy to focus on innovation and time to benefit.  This way we become a partner to their business and give them headspace to focus on their business stakeholders. This is a critical area of transformation required in the thinking of CIOs and CTOs.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? One key business goal that we’re seeing across industries is the ongoing emphasis on digital transformations. Enterprises now have an expanded digital footprint since more users are connecting to their networks, applications, and devices from remote locations. Many networks aren’t built with this level of complexity and remote end-users in mind and as a result, we’re seeing a large number of companies reconsidering their technology use in order to undergo connectivity and communication upgrades.

This can involve modernising and re-architecting their networks from Edge to Cloud to ensure visibility, management, orchestration and AIOps (artificial intelligence for IT operations). Solutions such as private 5G have many advantages in terms of reliability, flexibility, data privacy, ease of use and security – many of which lie at the heart of business objectives.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I might be different in this regard but all I am concerned about is the business strategy and outcome required. I use this to make a well-informed decision about technologies that deliver against that requirement as quickly as possible and that are aligned to my IT modernisation plan and technologies. Making product or service decisions in isolation or based on functions or features has led to the fragmented and brittle IT environments we have today. 

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is one that meets and enables the requirements of the business. There is no point in tech for tech’s sake – this typically leads to expensive shelfware. 

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Businesses will increasingly be digital; technology is foundational to all business and so CTOs will continue to have important roles in the business. As technologists with an appreciation of what technology can represent, I look forward to seeing them acting more as change agents to unlock the capabilities of technology platforms within their business. There is one caveat to this and that is to avoid the not-invented-here syndrome.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Probably being inducted into the Dimension Data Hall of Fame for my contributions to the Middle East and Africa business.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have made more notes to expound on my ideas and learnings so that I could actively harvest them for new insights and discoveries.

What are you reading now? That’s a long list because I’m a serial reader – it sort of has to do with my ideas around notes and insights so here you go:

  • How Clients Buy – Tom McMakin and Doug Fletcher
  • Out of Office – Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen
  • Everybody lies – Seth Stephens Davidowitz
  • The People vs Tech – Jamie Bartlett
  • Platform Revolution – Geoffrey G Parker, Marshale W. Van Alstyne, Sangeet Paul Choudary

Most people don't know that I… Draw and paint.

In my spare time, I like to…Hack Linux and “I use Arch…”

Ask me to do anything but… Climb a mountain or jump out an airplane.