Are CTOs a Thing of the Past?

Posted on Tue, September 20, 2016 in Business Strategy, by Mike Joyce

In many ways, the title of CTO is a thing of the past.

At this point in our economy’s digital growth path, to have a business means to be digital. Electricity was a novelty when it was first introduced, but as it became part of mainstream adoption products stopped touting themselves as “electric hair dryers” and “electric washing machines” and just became hair dryers and washing machines. We see a similar thing happening with online and digital technology today.

Startups who do the bulk of their business online are dropping the “e” and “i” from their names which previously designated them as digital-focused companies. Digitally-focused products and business tools are no longer a novelty, and staff members are increasingly expected to be proficient in tech too. As technology infuses itself into every corner of our economy, we’re reaching the point where at a company level technology prowess is spread across a team, not merely owned by just one C-level expert with “technology” in their title.

How Are CTO’s Adapting?

As tech saturates the business landscape, the role of the CTO is evolving. Many companies are taking the responsibilities associated with the title and dispersing them over teams instead of localizing them onto one person. This team can be internal or external, and might consist of folks such as senior developers, digital strategists, or engineers. If external, these responsibilities are handled by a digital consulting firm.

Traditionally, the CTO is responsible for having expertise in the core competencies of the company, business strategy, and the technologies needed to bring the business success. However we are seeing a growing trend that instead of relying on a single CTO to be an all-knowing and powerful wizard in tech, some forward-thinking businesses are relying on teams of subject matter experts instead. In fact, instead of hiring a CTO, businesses are hiring firms like GRAYBOX to cover these needs. Companies can't be built by solitary heroes or wizards – process and wisdom that drive towards solutions are what turn great ideas into stable and sustainable products. It’s uncommon for a single person to have enough experience to cover all the tech needs of a company. It’s more realistic to engage a unified team of senior consultants to cover all the bases. In addition to benefitting the business, this sharing of responsibility has also helped prevent “CTO Melt-down” – what happens when too much responsibility and tasks are placed on a solo CTO’s shoulders.

CTO’s Helping CTO’s

This shift in CTO roles within the business sector has also encouraged CTO’s to band together to help one another to meet these challenges head-on. The technology community has always been a collaborative one and we’re seeing more and more networking and co-learning opportunities pop up.

One such group is 7 CTO’s. Their website explains, “After more than two years spent meeting 300+ CTOs in four cities across the United States, it was clear [to the founders of 7 CTO’s that] there was an urgent need for leaders in technology strategy and execution to transcend their silos, and form close-knit communities of their peers and mentors.”

Our Director of Business Consulting, Mike Joyce, became a member and GRAYBOX as well as our clients have benefitted. You may notice that his title is not CTO. That is because at GRAYBOX, clusters of our team members cover the needs that traditionally a company’s CTO were imagined to handle. Mike meets monthly with six other tech professionals who are each currently tasked by their companies to function as CTO’s once did, even if not by title. Meetings are facilitated by an 8th person from the 7 CTO’s parent organization and include professional-oriented advice and collaboration around work, tech news, and a monthly professional growth topic related to tech.

GRAYBOX: CTO 2.0

We imagine a future for the CTO role in which businesses consider their CTO team member to be a strategic liaison who connects their company with a cadre of digital consultants and tools, much like a CMO. CMO’s engage PR firms, design firms, marketing firms, and lead a varied team of internal and external staff to cover the marketing needs of a company. In the absence of a CMO, a business will engage a marketing firm to cover this need. GRAYBOX sees the role of CTO moving in this direction. Gone are the days of businesses expecting their CTO to function as the be-all end-all of everything tech – it’s simply not realistic in this day and age. We look forward to partnering with more businesses and their CTO’s to ensure companies are receiving the top-notch digital strategy and business consulting needed to reach growth goals. To the future!

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