The role of the Chief Technology Officer came about in the 1980s, becoming prominent in the 1990s with the conception of the big internet companies. Tom Berray in The Role of the CTO: Four Models for Success explains that, for businesses, the “CTO role is a low-cost addition to the organization [that] can help reap potentially high pay-offs by identifying and elevating critical opportunities”. Finding a great CTO that meshes with a company’s corporate identity however, can seem more a challenge than discovering a unicorn might.
I’ve often wondered how relevant the CTO role is today considering that a lot of companies seem to have some idea of direction as towards their technological capabilities and future needs and what this phenomenon means to the CTOs at the top of their industries. For that matter, what does it mean to be a CTO in today’s game?
Having been involved in Career Counseling for CTOs for numerous years and having then worked with businesses searching for these sorts of aspiring executives for their C-suite, it’s apparent to me that there is a lot of confusion regarding what the individual versus the company sees the CTO role to be purposed for. If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that there isn’t a one-fit-for-all solution, but why is it after thirty-plus years that there isn’t any confluence of ideas? I have various observations on the technology industry, formed from extensive experience, but I knew if I was going to get to the bottom of this tricky deal, I would need further insider help; as such, I sought out 158 CTOs and asked them to give me a picture of where they think they will stand in the greater picture in 2018. To help them frame their response, I asked them to consider a comparison between CIO and CTO roles as there is often a grey area between the definitions of these positions. The information they received follows:
Chief Information Officer
Chief Technology Officer
40% of those contacted replied to comment on this interesting kaleidoscope of corporate responsibilities. Here is a sample of the messages that best represent the majority of respondents:
I feel the response I received shed some interesting light on the differences between CTOs and CIOs and the companies they work for. The CTOs in question were New Zealand based where a lot of organizations are still at a stage where they are rapidly growing so one could assume that this means these CTOs will acquire some of the duties of the CIO as they continue to develop. When they reach a grander size, they may focus on isolating the distinctive roles and appointing new people to take up the mantel of CIO.
The majority of CTO respondents saw themselves as senior to CIOs even though a lot of them did not in the past sit on an executive team, but reported directly to the CEO. This shift in thought may be a consequence of companies recently adding the CTO role to the executive team.
In New Zealand, there is still much of a grey area between CTO and CIO roles in terms of business development and it does not look like 2018 will bring a decisive end to this semantic nether. If it is in fact the CTO that must look outside of their company to stay abreast of new technology and what would serve the customers best, is it then down to the individual for this blurring of identity?
To summarize: there are companies and there are companies; all of them bring something different to the table when it comes to the deployment of CTOs and the CTOs themselves add another fascinating ingredient to that unfathomable stew. The CTO is far from standardized which is where the confusion comes in. Before a company decides they need a CTO, they need to know where the organization is going in terms of development: what are they trying to achieve? As a prospective CTO, you need to be aware of your skillset in terms of both business and technology. Put to the test, will you stand the test of time and deliver or have you only the treasure map without the crew to follow?
I would like to thank all of the fantastic CTOs who contributed to this article and gave their time and ideas so freely to allow me to explore this intriguing topic.
Eligibility: This giveaway is open to those who are 18 years of age or older. Employees of BlueSteps and their immediate family members are not