The role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is usually one of the most misunderstood of the C-suite.

However, in simple terms, the CTO is the executive who holds responsibility for the technology within an organisation.

Depending on the type and size of the business, the role of the CTO can vary, however some of their main responsibilities usually include:

  1. Innovation
  2. Architecture
  3. Technology vision and strategy
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Software development

Of all of the C-suite, the CTO is probably the role that has been most affected by the digital age.  CTOs usually focus on external tasks such as technology propositions for customers, which has allowed more room for CIOs to concentrate on internal tasks such as IT applications and services.

Although the roles vary between organisations, there are a few core CTO responsibilities:

  1. Innovation and R&D

Technology advances are constantly changing, and so CTOs need to stay up to date with trends, or a business can quickly be left behind. CTOs also need to be able to drive business value, using a combination of competitor analysis, customer intelligence, and judgement.

As the company’s public face of technology, they will also need credibility with stakeholders, potential employees, partners, customers, and investors – something that is vitally important but will take time to build.

A CTO who does this well is Rebecca Parsons, ThoughtWorks CTO, who regularly publishes on the Technology Radar report and manages responsibility for over 7000 software engineers, all using innovation to drive business value for international companies across the globe.

  1. Technology Governance

Governance is important in any C-Suite role, but CTOs will need to be able to handle their large portfolio of projects and manage the needs of multiple stakeholders. In order to generate the most value for the company, a CTO will need to prioritise the right projects with a clear process.

A CTO is first and foremost a business leader, and so they will need strong financial skills to manage large budgets and complicated rules. One CTO who successfully managed this is the former CTO for the UK Government, Liam Maxwell. Throughout his time in office, he advocated simplified but effective governance by reducing the number of governance forums and keeping the remaining forums focused on decision making, to cut through bureaucracy.

  1. Technology Leadership

A CTO needs to be able to use technology to generate Enterprise Value and help a business reach its objectives. They will need to be able to convey complex technical concepts to non-technical employees so that the team understands the possibilities of technology-enabled products and services.

One example of a CTO using technology to drive company values is the CTO of Amazon, Werner Vogels. He gave Amazon a huge head start in the cloud services industry by building Amazon Web Services – one of the most profitable areas of Amazon.

  1. Product Development

A recent development in the CTOs role is taking a lead in product development. CTOs will need to utilise technology within products and services to make them more profitable or appealing, and will therefore require a thorough understanding of user experiences, consumer trends, user research, and digital design.

We have seen recent pairings of the CTO and the Chief Product Owner (CPO) within C-suites to develop new technology-enabled products. If this pairing works well it should mean improved sales opportunities and revenue within businesses.

Gerri Martin-Flickinger, Starbucks CTO, headed the successful development of the brand’s mobile ordering system. She did this by centring her agenda centred around product development and customer experience, using technology to deepen customer connection to Starbucks.

  1. Business IT

Business IT is one of the more traditional aspects of the CTO’s role. Something that has always been at the core of the CTO’s role is the management of critical operational systems like CRM and ERP, which are being increasingly relied on to deliver for customers.

CTO’s need to constantly be looking out for technologies that can improve the way a company operates. Innovation in core business systems is something that is often overlooked but it can add huge value to the functionality of a company.

Summary

Technology is becoming increasingly critical for business success, and the role of the CTO is something that will only gain importance. We are living in a digitally-driven technological age and the future of the Chief Technology Officer looks bright.

About the author

Arif Harbott is a Chief Technology Officer and digital business leader who specialises in working with organizations undergoing large-scale transformation or disruption. He is the co-author of The HERO Transformation Playbook with Cuan Mulligan


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