The chief technology officer, also known as a chief technical officer or chief technologist, is an executive-level position focused on the scientific and technological issues within an organisation.
Masterclass says a CTO as being responsible for understanding and implementing a company’s technology and scientific needs to help meet business goals.
“As the company’s highest executive-level position for technology-related matters, the CTO holds a leadership role in both the technology or engineering departments and contributes to decision-making for a company’s research and development.” Masterclass
A CTO must have an extensive understanding of new technologies and technology trends to create a technological vision and strategy for the organisation and its stakeholders.
It can be argued that the shortening cycle of technology advances coupled with the near-constant uncertainty that is the hallmark of 2022 will continue to be the norm in 2023. And as businesses continue to depend on technology to innovate both externally and internally, what must the chief technology officer do to be effective in his or her role?
Asked what is a good starting point for a CTO career, Vishal Ghariwala, chief technology officer for APJ and Greater China at SUSE, is quick to point to software. He hinted that people with a software developer or consultant, pre-sales engineer or software architect are very hands-on. For Ghariwala, a CTO has to be comfortable rolling up his or her sleeves.
Since the CTO is expected to look at how technology can support a business’ goals, particularly growth, Ghariwala says that a CTO must have experience working in or with different functions including marketing, sales, and business development.
“These will provide a well-rounded experience since the CTO is regularly required to work with many functions in an organisation,” he opined.
With advances in technology not only accelerating and scaling to new areas of application, but a CTO would also need to have an inquisitive mind able to do market research and analyse technology trends.
Ghariwala contends that a CTO needs to be attending external events like conferences and seminars from vendors to be updated on advances in technology. At the same time, he or she needs to keep abreast of industry and market changes by listening to analysts’ briefings on where things are headed.
Finally, “being the technology face of the company, the CTO needs strong influencing, presentation, and public speaking skills across all levels, including technical, line of business and senior technology executive,” he added.
Influence of the pandemic on the CTO role
While cloud computing has been a point of interest and discussion for over a decade, COVID-19 accelerated its imperative for many organisations for various reasons including keeping operations running, lowering costs during periods of declining revenue, and supporting new business models.
According to Ghariwala, the cloud has taken centre stage during the pandemic. For the CTO, it is an opportunity to define resilient IT infrastructure that supports running applications everywhere: from the on-premises environment to the cloud to the edge environment.
Other issues he deemed important to the remit of the CTO, and for which the cloud is an important strategy to take forward include:
- Combating friction at work due to enterprises adopting hybrid work models. This includes ensuring that security is preserved even though the work locations can be in non-secure locations such as a café and even the home.
- Retaining talent and creating a positive environment so that the best employees stay with the company while being an attractive place to work for new employees.
Prioritising the many objectives
An organisation comprises different departments with leaders tasked to achieve function-specific goals. Often, these priorities do not align directly with those of others creating differing priorities and strategies that the CTO must orchestrate towards a common goal.
For Ghariwala, one such priority is improving customer experience and delivering customer value. “We should prioritise features that drive customer satisfaction, improve customer loyalty and renewals, especially for our strategic customers,” he elaborated.
He agreed that it is important to tie wishlists with organisation-level goals. “For example, SUSE is an open-source company that is committed to building open-source solutions that are truly open and interoperable with other technologies. Hence, we will prioritise this to create solutions that are flexible and work easily with other solutions,” he added.
He also insisted on addressing non-negotiable topics like security. “No matter how resource-intensive, expensive or boring a security feature is to build, Security cannot be compromised and will always be high on priority compared to say other exciting and innovative features,” he said.
Collaborate to success
Ghariwala acknowledged that each of the C-Suite members brings a unique set of skills and experience to the organisation.
“The CTO plays an important role in ensuring that the C-Suite is aware of and aligned with the company's technology vision and direction, the value proposition of its solutions to customers, and how it differentiates itself in the market,” he added.
Pursuing a CTO career
Ghariwala acknowledges that a CTO is a very visible role.
“It is important that you are able to connect with and get your perspectives, thoughts and points of view to the different personas effectively and confidently. Therefore, it will be very helpful to improve your presentation, public speaking and writing skills.”Vishal Ghariwala
In addition to maintaining an inquisitive mind and keeping abreast of the latest developments around industry and technology, Ghariwala says a CTO needs to craft a unique Point of View so that he or she can be a thought leader in his or her own right.
Click on the PodChat player to hear Ghariwala elaborate on what it takes to become a great CTO.
- What makes for a great CTO?
- Describe the role of the CTO in Asia Pacific in 2023. What is the most significant change in the role since the pandemic?
- Given the many business goals, how does the CTO juggle between wish lists, priorities, and the reality of constrained budgets?
- To be effective in his/her role, how should the CTO work alongside other members of the C-suite?
- What remains the top challenge of the CTO in 2023?
- What is your advice for those wishing to pursue a CTO career?