Never been a better time to aspire to be a chief technology officer, study shows

As the world goes digital, CTOs are gaining greater visibility in enterprises, a study by the IBM Institute for Business Value finds. 'The strategic nature of their job has placed them in a position of heightened interaction with senior leadership'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The Amazon Web Services outage in early December provided a key lesson in the emerging role pf the chief technology officer (CTO), says noted industry consultant Keith Townsend. "Are there external mitigations that enable you from overcomplicating your system design? The more complicated your system design for high availability, the longer it takes to implement new features. It takes someone who can have these complex conversations with technical staff and the lines of business. There's the need to have a reputation and the authority to impact both sides of the conversation. That's CTO level vs. engineer level." 

Photo: Joe McKendrick

The CTO, long a broad-based role overlapping with that of chief information officers, is emerging as a leading player in the growth and viability of digital enterprises. A recent survey of 5,000 CTOs and CIOs by the IBM Institute for Business Value bears this out, stating that "the CTO has become one of the most strategic roles within an organization." This "may come as a revelation for some," the report's authors, led by Rashik Parmar, an IBM Fellow. "Yet, this positioning has been years in the making. CTOs are aligned to lead a new virtual enterprise model that is emerging, fueled by a fresh post-digital approach to business opportunity."  

Top CTO responsibilities cited in the survey include C-suite and board advisory (88%), software development lifecycle (72%), cybersecurity (69%), innovation strategy (61%), and business continuity (59%). CTOs also add data to their list of central responsibilities. 79% of CTO respondents report a leadership role in their organization's data strategy— and 70% state that their colleagues look to them for data governance and stewardship.

In a separate IBM Institute survey of 3,000 CEOs, CTOs and CIOs jointly ranked in the top three, right behind CFOs and COOs, Parmar and his co-authors add, Reporting structures also reflect a radical shift in strategic influence. 40% of CTOs indicated they now report directly to the CEO, and 67% of CTOs said they report directly into the C-suite versus a business unit or geography leader. 

Where do CTO and CIO roles align, and where do they differ? "CTOs are focused on a core set of responsibilities, namely technology strategy, operations, and architecture," the study shows. "CIOs tend to own a broad set of responsibilities that bridge from the C-suite to the business units. More than 70% of surveyed technology leaders report that CIOs own back-office applications, including supply chain, workforce engagement, end-user experience, and workplace enablement."

Roles shared between CTOs and CEOs include innovation strategy. data privacy, ecosystem strategy, software development lifecycle, cybersecurity, and C-suite and board advisory initiatives.  

The IBM study also finds CTOs and CIOs are often working independently. Only 45% of CTOs indicate frequent interaction with their CIO counterparts. Similarly, just 41% of CIOs highlight frequent interaction with their CTO peers.

With the relentless drive to digital, CTOs are gaining more notice than they have before, the IBM researchers observe. "We see the tech leadership role increasingly split between the CIO and the CTO, with the CTO role being relatively new in the C-suite," they state. "The strategic nature of their job has placed them in a position of heightened interaction with senior leadership, with 55% of those surveyed noting their primary C-suite engagement is with the CEO and an equal percentage engaging with the chief operating officer."

Some CTO responsibilities going forward include the following, the IBM team states:

  • "Advise the CEO, C-suite, and the Board on technology strategy and architecture."
  • "Invest in emerging and exponential technologies that allow the organization to fulfill its core mission."
  • "Drive innovation through an accelerated discovery process."
  • "Define principles for the design and implementation of new technologies and their responsible use moving forward."
  • "Forge partnerships that help solve business problems and kindle ideas for new business models."   

Some of the basic requirements for those aspiring to pursue a CTO career path are provided here at GeeksforGeeks.

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