To a greater extent than any other C-level executive, the role of a Chief Technology Officer covers an extremely broad range of responsibilities.
The precise roll-call of duties that land on the desk of a CTO will vary widely depending on the nature and size of the business concerned.
But for anyone wondering what is the role of a CTO, there are certain areas in any business that will need to be addressed and mastered by the person holding this title.
In the business world of the 2020s, it is hard to conceive of the circumstances in which a company could be healthy and competitive without being both technically excellent and in command of the digital skills required to thrive in its particular industry.
Equally, it is difficult to imagine a viable business that does not have a strong technical and digital arm that enables it to communicate with the world and deliver its products and services.
The CTO’s main mission is the same as any other C-level executive’s, to empower the company to achieve its financial and strategic goals. However, their role entails a strong focus on technology that may manifest itself in certain responsibilities:
Product development (include reference to MVP)
The extent to which a CTO is involved in this will depend on the size of the company. In a startup business, the CTO will be expected to play a central role in the establishment of the technical elements that will deliver the products and services that will define the customer proposition. In a larger operation, the CTO can expect to be less hands-on.
Nevertheless, regardless of the size of the business – and the nature of its services and target audience – the CTO’s desk is where the ultimate responsibility lies for every tech-related function of the business. They are the person who must ensure that the products are technically viable and attractive to the marketplace.
This responsibility covers the design and development of a product that meets a market need. In a startup business, the CTO will play a crucial role in the creation and delivery of a Minimum Viable Product, a stripped-down version that can be taken to market to generate feedback that can in turn be used to refine future, more detailed, versions.
The CTO will also be closely involved with the testing of prototypes to ensure that what goes to market works optimally.
Internal business operations and processes
You want and need your business to function smoothly. There may be a range of systems that need to work optimally, such as communications and office equipment.
In a small operation or a startup, it is likely that the CTO will need to be hands-on on a day-to-day basis to ensure the tech supports the operation of the business rather than slowing it down.
As a company grows, its technological architecture will expand too. The CTO should be in charge of ensuring that when it comes to investing in the right systems, hardware and software, the best decisions are made.
This also applies to the people who will be charged with growing the company’s technological footprint and expertise.
A modern CTO needs to be comfortable with the duty of building a team that may grow to include IT specialists, engineers and data architects. They should be adept at communicating the benefits of joining their team, given the ongoing level of competition for the best technological talent in the jobs market.
Similarly, an outstanding CTO will need leadership and team management skills. It is no longer enough to be simply technologically adept; if the business you are part of building becomes successful and continues to expand, you could be charged with the leadership of a large and multi-functional tech team.
Representing the business
The CTO holds one of the most important positions in a business of any side. But as well as their internal duties, the CTO should also expect to represent their company in the wider world.
It will help their company’s standing considerably if they can establish their own standing as a subject matter expert by attending – and even speaking at – conferences and trade events.
There is a wider context here, that the CTO’s focus should be outward as well as inward. Given the extraordinary speed of technological development in recent decades, a CTO cannot afford not to be aware of new trends that their company can leverage in future product development.
More than ever before, businesses are at risk of digital assault from various sources.
One of the most significant impacts of the Covid-19 crisis is the hugely increased extent to which business is conducted in the digital space. As a result, digital criminals have ramped up their activities and developed increasingly sophisticated methods for disturbing, and even destroying, businesses’ and individuals’ livelihoods.
A CTO must take ultimate responsibility for anticipating and minimising the danger posed by phishing, ransomware and third-party software. Corporate databases and company websites, as well as the digital tools used by individuals within organisations, must be protected as securely as possible.
It is unlikely that even the most tech-focused startup will have its own quality assurance capability. As a result, the CTO will need to be hands on in testing a product for bugs – and deciding how to cope when an issue arises.
Product testing and the monitoring of fixes is a key element of the development process and responsibility for this, regardless of the size of a business, sits with the CTO.
Planning for growth
Given the fundamental importance of technology in the modern business landscape, it is essential that the CTO is not a marginalised, specialist figure.
The CTO needs to be central to the strategic process of developing a roadmap for the business. Whether the organisation is concerned with technological products, or the tech focus is merely on the digital aspect of developing a company’s services, the journey taken by that business needs to be as technically smooth and innovative as possible.
Many CTOs use StartHawk as a great way of finding a new business partner, so it is well worth signing in and checking out the possibilities.
21st June 2021