The Asset that is a Chief Technology Officer

by | Mar 9

11 min read


When browsing chief technology officer (CTO) positions on a jobs board, the following basic requirements will become evident to you: a three-year National Diploma or Bachelors degree in ICT, or an ICT-related qualification; and 10 to 15 years of experience in the ICT field.

As mentioned in the CIO blog post, there is typically some confusion between the CTO and CIO roles. Fortunately, is is easy to explain their key difference: while both are executive-level positions, typically in larger organisations, a CTO looks outward with his or her challenge being to make use of technology to boost the operationality of the products that serve the firm’s customers; while a CIO, on the other hand, must take care of the firm’s internal technology needs and challenges.

Definition of the CTO role
According to, a company that provides best-in-class recruitment tools, processes and automation solutions, a CTO’s main responsibility is the building of technological products and services that cater to their customer’s immediate needs. When hired to perform this job, you will be on a constant search for high-tech solutions that give your company the edge, while overseeing the engineers and developers busy at work on these products/services; and evaluating whether their end products/services offer your customers the appeal and functionality which you demand.

Key CTO duties and responsibilities
The main scope of your work in a CTO job will be developing an IT roadmap for your product designers, developers and engineers; working closely together with your vendors and suppliers so they are fully versed about any issues with their products and/or services, with a view to correcting these; making sure that any of these IT-related products and/or services are fully aligned with your firm’s overall business strategy; and ensuring that the technology you are making available to your customers is the best in class within the marketplace.

Due to the demands of this role, you’ll realise that to be an effective CTO, the following types of knowledge and experience are a little more than a nice to have:

• Extensive experience in managing third-parties (such as vendors and suppliers) and accurately implementing the solutions they offer, in what could prove a complex working environment:
• Ease at road mapping and strategy development in the technology space; and
• Experience at leading senior developer/architect/engineering teams, as they build out the apps and infrastructure of your company on behalf of its customers.

Internal promotion or external opportunity
Only around a third of respondents (28.9 percent) in the latest Global CTO Survey revealed that they had been promoted from within their current firm. On the other hand, the other approximately two-thirds, or 66.4 percent, had either moved across to another company to take on the CTO role on offer there (32.5 percent), or took on the role when co-founding a brand new organisation (33.9 percent). Only 3.2 percent transitioned from another C-suite role to become CTO at their orginal firm; while as few as 1.6 percent landed in the CTO role following a merger or acquisition. The moral of the story? Be prepared to make a strategic move when you’re ready to take on more responsibility. For details, see the diagram “How did you become CTO?”, here.

Feedback from the research: your biggest concerns
According to the same survey, the three biggest concerns among CTOs in the international arena relate to: hiring, capacity, and security.

Hiring: As unemployment rates drop post-pandemic in countries such as the US, UK and also EU nations, so those individuals currently searching for work will have more clout in the job market than their potential employers. Of interest: in countries with much higher unemployment rates such as South Africa, but where few applicants are sufficiently qualified and experienced to assume any sought-after tech positions – once again, potential applicants can dictate their preferred working conditions, desired earnings and more; or move on to greener pastures. CTOs should therefore weigh up whether hiring someone who is slightly less qualified and experienced, but also less expensive in terms of salaries and perks, will be able to manage, thrive and make a contribution in the rather frantic and demanding working environment of today.

Capacity: As a result of the hiring challenges they face, CTOs are experiencing concomitant capacity challenges, and those related to scaling up when a project needs urgent numbers of hands on deck. Here, the recommendation or best option appears to be to seek out a staff augmentation company, which will be able to provide much-needed, and skilled, staffing assistance. Such a firm can help you build an outsourced tech team, which will then be able to integrate seamlessly with your in-house team – with a view to assisting your company to meet its current tech-implementation goals and targets.

Security: Move over staffing matters – the security of a company’s data and infrastructure is also never going to be far from any CTO’s mind. The reason? Data breaches were up 14 percent in the first quarter of 2022 alone, when compared to the previous year, reveals the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). It’s all about educating staff members, on a regular basis, about the types of incoming threats to expect; and, thereby, curtailing the human error that often facilitates such breaches.

Lessons to note from a data breach
Cyber security firm ERMProtect advises that there are three typical ways in which a data breach can occur. Without alarming your staff contingent, it is a good idea to mention these lessons in your next company address:
• Vulnerabilities should be patched after a hacker’s first attempt to access company systems. Therefore, staff members should always report a suspected hacker attack right away;
• Avoid clicking on malicious links, visiting phishing sites or opening suspicious emails. Staff members should ask questions about what they should avoid doing, and why these activities can leave the entire business vulnerable to data breaches. Explain to your team members exactly what a “weak password” is, and how to make it less easy to configure;
• Advise on the need for monitoring protocols, related to malware (or malicious types of software) such as viruses, ransomware, Trojans, spyware and adware – as just a few harmful examples. Make it clear to your staff contingent that you have these protocols in place to help prevent a hacker from stealing the organisation’s confidential information. Tell them about how serious such an attack can be, the reason these monitoring protocols need to be stepped up from time to time, and that they are definitely not in place to spy on individuals while they are working. Rather, they have been implemented to prevent a situation in which the firm has to pay a hacker an exorbitant sum to prevent them from leaking any hacked data, or material.

Evolution of the role
Analytics Insight, a platform that employs extensive market research, historial data and algorithms to pinpoint emerging trends that can make companies more competitive, reveals that 56.4 percent of CTO roles have undergone significant change over the past three years.

While the individual in this position used only to engage with their own development department, they are now the face of technology for the entire firm – noting trends, gauging customer requirements, and assisting their company as a whole to get ahead in times of abrupt digital transformation.

The CTO of today can envision how the systems they choose to implement will allow their company to rise above its marketplace competitors, and they are well versed on the need for constant in-house training on the proficient use of these systems.

Ever heard the saying that every company is now a tech company? Well, it’s true! In fact, if you’re employed in this role at a big listed company, you may split the IT function between a CIO (who takes an internal approach towards systems and proficiency); while you handle the way the company interfaces with its customers – bascially, the way in which you make your revenue in cyber space.

Further to the experience you have gained in ITC, is the need for excellent money management skills. By working within careful budgetary parameters, you will be able to innovate, do upgrades, and implement the necessary research and development in such a way that these activities continue to move you towards CEO-defined goals. Your company CFO will also love you for avoiding the temptation to throw financial caution to the wind.

Let just add that it helps to be a charismatic individual, so that you are well liked by the company board and stakeholders, and when you speak up about the need to increase resilience, reduce risk and drive revenue – all those listening are likely to agree with your knowledge-based contribution.

Are you up for the challenge?
Whether you already have CTO interviews lined up, or are at the point of considering this position as your next move up the career ladder, you may be interested in the 5 CTO-relevant stepping stones suggested by emerging tech dissector, InfoWorld:

• Who have you mentored within the industry at large?
• What strategic connections have you built outside of your current firm?
• What company outcomes have you achieved by means of strong communication skills and volumes of inspiration?
• In which cases have you managed to put yourself into the customer’s shoes when solving infrastructure-related challenges?

Being able to answer these questions in an interview (and possibly also name drop a tad), is sure to impress that potential CEO, HR manager and other senior executives.

Fast fact 1: Earnings comparison
The average CTO salary in South Africa is approximately R2 343 727 per annum, while a CTO overseas can expect to earn an annual salary of as much as US$287 739 [R5 227 685] – as of end February 2023.

Fast fact 2: Four aspects to consider when implementing a cloud network security system
Is your data protected by multi-layered, real-time threat protection?
Is the system seamless to use and easily accessible?
Is cloud data encrypted so that it cannot be read by unauthorised parties?
Is the system compatible with all the in-house platforms and devices currently in use?

Fast fact 3: Best ways for a CTO to manage stress
Did you know there’s something called “CTO meltdown”? Just like many other high-profile and demanding roles, stress-related illnesses and types of mental distress (anxiety, depression, road rage) are commonly experienced by the typical CTO – in fact, up to 56 percent of global CTOs report that their stress levels feel unmanageable. The solution? WebMD suggests that you exercise regularly, practise mindfulness meditation, eat a well-balanced healthy diet, and make time for hobbies and activites that boost creative thinking, help you to relax, and cultivate a vibrant social life outside of your work circle.

Fast fact 4: Does your firm need cyber security?
An article on, “Cyber Insurance And Reassessing The Cyber Business”, explains that cyber insurance works in a similar way to any other kind of insurance, in that it manages risk – but in this case the risk is related to business threats such as ransomeware, hackers, denial-of-service attacks, data breaches (as mentioned above), theft and destruction of data, and many others. In order to qualify for cyber insurance and keep its costs within reasonable parameters, you will be required to provide a checklist of cyber defences that you have already put in place.

Author of the above-mentioned article, Brian Greenberg, CIO/CTO and partner at Fortium Partners, advises that this is not a nice to have! In fact, “cybersecurity insurance should be an item on every organisation’s checklist next to secure backups, especially as cybercriminals attempt to employ increasingly sophisticated methods to access any given organisation’s digital assets.” Greenberg’s view is that with adequate cyber insurance in place, a company will be able to make sure that when their “business-critical systems and information” are compromised, they have the safeguards in place to reduce the financial fall-out.

Just be sure, he adds, to sit with your broker as you attempt to comprehend the full extent of the four main categories of cybersecurity breaches – i.e. business and operational disruption costs due to recovery activities, ransom demands, legal liabilities, and lawsuits.

Fast fact 5: Financial fall-out of cyber attacks
Nearly a quarter of US companies that experienced a cyber attack in 2022 lost between US$50 000 and US$99 999; 22 percent lost between US$100 000 and US$499 999; and four percent lost more than US$1-million. By 2025, cyber crime will cost the world as much as US$10.5 trillion annually, up from US$3 trillion annually in 2015.


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