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“The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has the most crucial position in any corporation in 2023.”
This could be a controversial statement. But read on for two paragraphs and think about it again.
The noise around digitalization has reached a crescendo and the pressure is on every business, government agency and non-governmental organization to show that they are ‘digital.’ My guess is that in the not too distant future are going to see articles about how much money has been wasted by organizations being digital. It is important, then, to understand what your company’s strategy should be before investing in new shining tools and platforms.
The CTO, sometimes named Chief Information Officer (CIO), is the executive that’s going to guide your company through the process of defining where you are heading. Developing a strategy for both your digital presence and the data you own is a task often underestimated. While it is seemingly easy to create key performance indicators (KPIs) for digital (“how many users clicked on my page,” “how many widgets did we sell online”), your data strategy is far less obvious. It is often reduced to “we bought platform A or B.”
Less clear is what is the value of your data and how are you using it to create value for the business. If the CTO fails, your company is missing out in two crucial areas:
- You will miss the opportunities that could move you to the front
- You will overspend on projects that will not improve your competitiveness
Both are errors you want to avoid. So what are the areas that define the CTO?
The most important tasks of the CTO vary depending on the specific needs and goals of the organization, but common responsibilities of the CTO include:
- Writing and implementing the company’s technology strategy: This means identifying new technologies to adopt, creating a roadmap for implementation, and managing budgets and resources consumed.
- Leading the development of new products and services: The role is responsible for overseeing research and development of new products and services, and for identifying opportunities to use technology to differentiate the company in the marketplace.
- Managing the IT infrastructure; including hardware, software, data storage, and networking on-premises and in cloud is a bread-and-butter task. Ensuring stable operations and security are top priorities in the unpredictable world today.
- Providing technical guidance, leadership and mentoring. The CTO should guide both tech teams and management in selecting new solutions as well as developing existing tools in use. Mentoring is key to keep employees as well as increasing the value of your work force with up-skilling and re-skilling.
So now that we have a better understanding of what the CTO role has to accomplish; what are the specific skill set needed to be successful? Three specific areas are differentiators.
1. Practical engineering approach
Not all CTO’s have a technical background, but I would strongly recommend that you look at candidates that have a broad background in technical disciplines. The job today entails mastery of cloud and security, identity, web and app design, and the emerging areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Your company will be bypassed if you can’t identify and prioritise the critical areas of tech affecting your company now.
2. Strategic thinking
The CTO is responsible for creating a long-term vision for how technology can support the business, and for developing a plan to execute on that vision. This means having experience in and deep knowledge of the key platforms and software your business needs to be successful. Avoiding pitfalls will save crucial time and money that you can’t recover elsewhere. Avoid flock mentality whether it’s moving all your apps a single platform or over investing in data and analytics tools. Remember that what you are looking for is how to solve your business challenges. Don’t fall into the trap of building the perfect platform and then go looking for problems to solve.
We’ve talked a lot about technology, but communicating with stakeholders internally and externally is one of the main tasks the CTO has to undertake. A technical field is often misunderstood. The CTO must communicate the ‘vision’ and the ‘mission’ in simple terms. Setting expectations and communicating the path forward effectively builds trust, improves productivity, and ultimately, creates a positive and supportive work environment.
It has been argued that the CTO is the least defined role of the C-levels. I hope this brief discussion helps clarify the role your CTO should have in the organization and the qualities needed to succeed.