The business world is evolving at a rate which we have never seen before. Technological innovations are being implemented across a wide range of industries, from finance with the FinTech revolution to advertising & AdTech, all the way to the medical profession and MedTech. Technology’s pervasive presence in business is inescapable and virtually every industry is taking the steps necessary to stay current and not get left behind.
A major problem arises when a business become technologically complacent: new companies come along, providing the same services as their predecessors, but do so more efficiently and with fewer costs. Commonly referred to as “disruption”, the resulting apotheosis of young businesses and startups typically comes down to their eagerness to make technological innovation a centerpiece of their respective business models. Adapting to new technologies has become vital to the success and survival of business and this is starting to be reflected in corporate offices. The CTO is the becoming the new COO.
Being at the forefront of technological innovation and being technologically literate used to be considered assets in C-level executives. Now they’re necessities. A company needs to be driven by an individual who has total command of emerging technologies. Some of the high level challenges facing today’s COO include alignment of vision and strategy across all business units, marketing, information security, managing customer satisfaction, ensuring industry specific compliance requirements and hiring, managing and retaining a workforce of changing habits (i.e. remote). Each of these challenges often involves extensive use of technology as part of the larger strategy to achieve the respective goal
Even the nitty gritty daily operational tasks now involve technology. For example, sales force productivity is driven by data and workflow tools such as services like Salesforce and G Suite (Google’s business services) and the ability to merge these systems together. Business needs in the workplace demands that the COO have a developed understanding of these pieces of tech.
Just look at the world around us. Technology and digital services are prevalent everywhere. Politicians’ email are hacked and leaked. A presidential candidate tweets post-debate responses at 3am to considerable fanfare. Companies are constantly having their data breached resulting in high level executives being fired and/or sued. And these are just the high profile uses of technology. Imagine all of the untold and top-secret stories.
With the immense need for proper cyber security, the CTO is the one who best understands that, unless data and sensitive information are secure, the company cannot survive. A recent study by tech market research firm Vanson Bourne found that 82% of the companies who participated reported a lack of cyber security skills within their organizations. Not only is it likely that the CTO will have some cyber security skill, even if they do not, they’re more likely to recognize the dearth of cyber security talent within an organization and, in turn, take the necessary steps to alleviate this issue.
Just as the role of COO is paradigmatically different from what it was a decade ago, so is the role of the CTO. Formerly relegated to managing small teams and implementing esoteric technological concepts into a core product or service, the CTO now manages large teams and divisions tasked with providing essential services that keep the business afloat.
The CTO also has to have a command of what the market wants and needs. Look at Apple. They released dozens of amazing, cutting-edge computing products in the 80s and 90s that were unique at the time. But no one wanted them. (Remember the Apple Pippin? The video game system from 1995 was priced at $599 and sold just 42,000 copies until it was discontinued in 1997.) A piece of technology is only as great as a person’s desire to use it. One can think of countless examples of other amazing pieces of technology that were total busts on the consumer market.
From Marketing and daily operations, to team leading and cyber security, it’s clear that CTOs must become integral parts of executive teams at companies of all sizes. As the responsibilities of the COO and CTO continue to merge, it will become more and more clear that the unique skills and capabilities of the CTO provide companies with the highest potential for profit, security, and success.