The responsibilities of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) continue to evolve as businesses emerge from the pandemic and redefine their work structure. The role also now has a greater impact on the strategic direction and priorities of a company.
And while there won’t necessarily be widespread agreement from company to company as to the exact job description and attributes of a CTO, there is consensus that the role of the strategically-minded CTO has evolved since 2020 and the start of the COVID emergency.
We’ll start with a bit of history and a compare and contrast discussion with a similar yet very different role within an organization: the Chief Information Officer (CIO), a title that was first defined in the early 1980s. The CIO role was originally designed to oversee a company’s overall information technology infrastructure, including an organization’s computer systems. This role since the early days has typically been operational, with the CIO responsible for running a company’s internal operations and business procedures.
Conversely, the CTO is typically the highest technology executive position within a company and leads the organization’s technology development efforts. A role that can be traced back to the late 1980s but one that didn’t gain true momentum and prominence until the late 1990s, the CTO is responsible for technologies that grow the business externally – meaning she ensures the company taps into technology to develop, implement and enhance products and services which focus on external customers. As technology has become more than simply an “IT enabler”, the CTO has more of a market-facing, strategic planning role.
OS33’s VP of Strategy, Jeff Fisher, commented on the direction he sees the CTO role evolving in the future. “The CTO’s role goes well beyond the traditional definition of technology and now begins to embrace an organization’s research and development function. The CTO will often be on point to develop both digital products and the strategy that guides a company’s direction.”
As well, the CTO is often the person to lead the establishment of an innovative culture so a team can think through new and innovative ways to solve challenges. Fisher argues that this now includes the area of cybersecurity: “While cybersecurity in the past may have been considered an IT issue, in our new world, which has been accelerated by COVID, cybersecurity is now considered a business-critical issue. How a firm handles cybersecurity challenges weaves firmly into the strategic vision and path of a company.”
There are other rising challenges faced by CTOs:
Today in many organizations, the CTO position has involved into a chief strategy officer role with companies looking to deliver tech-driven customer experiences. And Fisher also pushes forth the idea that an important role of the CTO is to ensure that technologies work simply and intuitively, while both enhancing the work experience and providing the user with a positive experience – with a constant eye on security. “There are unique challenges in today’s technology-driven world. There is more of a focus on increased mobility and workplace flexibility – and this, coupled with increased cyber risk, means that more creative and strategic thinking is required of a company’s leadership team. The role of the CTO, quite frankly, is more important than ever to a company’s success and the success of its client base,” Fisher concluded.