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What is a CTO?

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Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Discover who the CTO is for the modern day business, their roles and responsibilities and how HotTopics brings them together as a community.

Who is the CTO?

The Chief Technology Officer, CTO, is a senior executive responsible for the technology of a business, including its investments, strategies, opportunities and challenges. This responsibility has placed these executives at the forefront of key strategic movements within the industry, including digital transformations, business innovation and productivity. In line with the growing importance of the technology function, the CTO, too, has become a key hire. CTOs normally report to the CIO, the COO or direct to the CEO. Interestingly, many executives are reporting a merging of the CIO and CTO roles as technology becomes synonymous with any business activity.

HotTopics Cheat Sheet: CTO

  • The CTO is a C-suite executive responsible for the technology investments, products and services of a business.
  • The role of the CTO is important to any modern, digital business, given its responsibilities around digital transformations, among others.
  • The CTO is technically-minded, but more and more merged with the role of the CIO in enterprises.


The CTO remit

If a CIO has a more business-centric view of the organisation and its IT, a CTO is historically more technically minded. A CTO is an architect, innovator and is product-centric, and oversees the effectiveness of technology resources within a business.

This means that they have to be adept at mapping the technology architecture of a business, isolating areas for improvement with new investments, areas for efficiency using new or updated tools and understanding department productivity. They also need to apply that externally to the rest of the industry. Research into new partners, services and even sectors can mean the difference between competitive advantage and playing catch up.

This makes the role incredibly dynamic.

Different organisations will have different needs of a CTO, mainly depending on how the senior technology leadership team is structured. The CTO will either work closely with the CIO, or the roles will be merged. In either scenario, a CTO will have to work closely with the CISO, or CSO, to ensure the most effective security tools are used to the best of their ability. Perhaps a Chief Digital Officer or Chief Transformation Officer has been brought on for a specific overhaul; the CTO would be required to partner with this interim position as the longer term strategic advisor.

Day-to-day, a CTO has a number of jobs.

They report on the company’s technology status alongside its metrics, creating and implementing technology strategies, aligning the company’s technology resources with its short- and long-term goals. They can also serve on the executive committee to align technology goals to other departmental and organisational objectives, identifying which technologies can be used to improve the company’s products and services. The role is also becoming more people-centric: recruiting, onboarding and training the right talent has been a critical business challenge for the industry in the 21st Century, and the CTO must be able to build the right team to support a business’ priorities.

Further roles and responsibilities

Today, understanding how technology works is only half the battle. CTOs and fellow technology leaders must now also inform teams on its business value. This includes any seniority within the business, from graduate employees to the Board. It is vital to be able to see how technology fits with strategic business goals.

The soft skills most important for a CTO therefore are communication and collaboration.

Working with many different function heads to align business and technology goals—with varying levels of complexity—will be one of the key determining factors of success for the CTO. Furthermore, the role is also best placed to recognise the challenges and opportunities present across the organisation and where technology can help. Problem-solving, time management, multi-tasking and creative thinking will all be needed to satisfy the demands of the whole business and the Board.


Further CTO reading

The CTO is a historically important role whose influence has only increased in line with digital technologies. They work closely with different department heads to learn, understand and develop parts of the business using technology, to either improve efficiencies, productivity or talent experience. Its evolution moving forward will largely shape the future of the CIO position, too.

The world is also continually evolving—and fast. Critical information and constant learning helps the CTO keep track of trends and insights in a world of real-time information. One of the surest ways to remain abreast of new developments, and share learnings, is to build up a strong network of peers as a support network.

HotTopics’ technology leader community boasts thousands of technology leaders and practitioners from around the world where they meet virtually and in-person at our many formats of events in a given year, such as The Studio, to share their best practice thought leadership, learn from one another, and widen their networks.

Discover the HotTopics Technology Leaders Community here.