The Chief Technology Officer Cto Commerce Essay


The emergence of the Chief Technology Officer role over the past few years is fundamentally changing the landscape of business management. This change and organisation's adoption of it will likely define the success of most businesses as The Internet does its best to disrupt every business model, while inventing new ones throughout the process.

This research paper aims to clarify the responsibilities of the CTO in technology driven businesses and the skills required to meet those responsibilities. The goal was to develop a framework ("Responsibilities and Skills Matrix") on which to base a CTO skills development. This matrix can then be used to recruit and develop individuals for the role of CTO and the office of the CTO.

Academic views as to the strategic responsibilities of the CTO are varying and thus are the skills necessary to meet those responsibilities. This paper has assessed the available academic literature, and the findings form the basis of Chapter Two. These have informed inputs of the interview questions that were asked of experts in the field, and are presented in Chapter Three; Chapter Four then explores the qualitative research methodology that will be utilised for the study.

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The data collected from the interviews was then transcribed and tagged to identify emerging patterns from the data, allowing the listing of responsibilities and skills most frequently mentioned by the experts interviewed in Chapter Five. From this list the Top 10 responsibilities and Top 10 skills to meet the responsibilities of the CTO within technology driven organisations were listed, based on frequency of mention.

The results were then further explored in Chapter Six by way of a skills and responsibilities matrix for the CTO role.

Research Scope

The scope of this research project is defined by the definitions of the following terms:


According to Wikipedia ('Chief Technology Officer", n.d.) a CTO is defined as

A Chief Technical Officer or Chief Technology Officer (abbreviated as CTO) is an executive position whose holder is focused on scientific and technical issues within an organization. Essentially, a CTO is responsible for the transformation of capital - be it monetary, intellectual, or political - into technology in furtherance of the company's objectives. ('Chief Technology Officer", n.d.)

Technology Driven Organisations within South Africa

The definition used within this research paper of a technology driven organisation is any organisation in which the use of technology is critical to day-to-day functioning.

A few examples of such organisations would be: financial institutions, internet service providers, telecommunications companies and any other company that cannot deliver a service or product to a customer without the use of technology.

It is also important to note that only South African based organisations and CTOs will form the scope of this research.


The Oxford English dictionary defines a skill as "the ability to do something well; expertise". (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012)


And it defines a responsibility as "the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something". (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012)

Research Motivation

The underlying motivation to my research is both personally and professionally driven. On a personal level, I am so passionate about the technology industry that I feel I need to add to the body of knowledge that is this under-researched field, and on a professional level I one day aspire to be the CTO of a technology driven organisation.

Qualitative research was also chosen with the purpose of enabling a learning opportunity to enhance my listening and verbal interpretation skills rather than defaulting to quantitative research, which is more within my comfort zone.

Adam Long in his blog titled 'The Chief Technology Officer' highlights the importance of the CTO role and how it is largely misunderstood when he says

The role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is one of the least defined and understood corporate executive roles (such as CEO, COO, CFO, CIO). The role has been gaining prominence in many organizations, as witnessed with the newly created position of Chief Technology Officer of the United States (Long, 2007, para. 2).

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Medcof and Atkinson (2009) have their own insights into the role and they believe that

The role of the CTO is a strategic one which includes responsibilities like ensuring the effective functioning of technology as a whole in the organisation, to align corporate and technology strategy and to serve as an active member of the organisations top management team and to go beyond the responsibilities of which are only technical Medcof and Atkinson (2009, p.26).

Pratt in her article The CTO: It's Chameleon states that "now more than ever CTOs are expected to have the business knowledge that ties that technology vision to a company's mission, performance and financial goals." (Pratt, 2007, para. 5).

Blodgett in her article for the CIO magazine states that the CTO is gaining more responsibility

One model that is developing especially in larger companies, is to split IT leadership between CIO and CTO although many CIOs have worked with CTOs in the past, today's CTO's are being given more responsibility given the overwhelming demands and complexities leaping into the eBusiness fray (Blodgett, 2007, paragraph:10).

What is becoming abundantly clear is that the CTO has a very important organisational role to play. What remains unclear are the strategic responsibilities are of a CTO, and the required skills the CTO needs to in order to meet those strategic responsibilities within technology driven organisations.

Research Problem

If anything is clear about the role a CTO plays within the organisation it would be the fact that the role is dynamic and is one that is emerging into a key player on the firm's board. The CTO role is not today what it was five years ago and as such, it will need to be defined in terms of the strategic responsibilities and the necessary skills that are required to excel at the position, especially within technology driven organisations.

"Those who aspire to strategic leadership as Chief Technology Officers must look beyond their roots in technology and develop their careers in light of the realities of how decisions are made in top management teams." (Medcof, 2007, paragraph1)

The evidence from the literature suggests the CTO role now requires an executive player which is well versed in the realms of business and technology, a leader with good interpersonal skills that is someone their stakeholders can relate to as well as someone who can make some of the most important strategic decisions for large organisations. The role requires an innovator with wide organisational experience who is also a visionary and can communicate that vision for the organisation to gain competitive advantage within the marketplace.

The problem therefore that this research report will aim to address is:-

What are the strategic responsibilities of a CTO?

What are the skills required to meet the strategic responsibilities of a CTO?

If we use the definitions from section 1.2 above we can further simplify the two research questions to say that this research study will define what a CTO working within a technology driven organisation is accountable for and depending on their skill set, how well they have the ability to perform these tasks.

Chapter Two - Theory and Literature Review


The management of technology has changed dramatically over the last decade as the internet has gained momentum, forcing business to adapt and is continually evolving and maturing with emerging technologies entering the market, and their implementation within the organisation.

Edler, Meyer-Krahmer and Reger believe that

Firms have more and more developed overall strategies for their management of technology. This is due to the fact that the cumulative nature of technological know-how emphasises the need for strategies that enable firms both to build knowledge in existing core technologies and to access newly emerging technologies to sustain long-term competitiveness of the company (Edler, Meyer-Krahmer and Reger, 2002, p.149).

So if the CTO role is so integral to an organisations overall strategy and therefore performance, the role deserves a clearer definition of its responsibilities and the skills required to meet those responsibilities within academic literature. The literature collected and examined within this Chapter has been grouped into five themes.

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In technology driven organisations, the CTO plays a critical role in aligning the technology enablers to the organisation's strategy (Roberts, 2001; Smith, 2003; Medcof and Yousofpourfard, 2006). In order for this to be successful, the CTO needs the scope and breadth of skills to execute. Medcof goes further to say that he believes that "an unempowered CTO will not be successful" (Medcof, 2008, p. 407).

This Chapter evaluates the available academic literature available surrounding the responsibilities of the CTO into five different themes that emerged from the literature:

Corporate strategy definition

Competitive advantage


Power base

Corporate strategy execution

This Chapter then looks at the skills required to meet the strategic responsibilities explored above that emerged from the available academic literature.

Definition of the Chief Technology Officer Role

The publications reviewed for this research study reveal a few slightly differing definitions of the CTO role:

Medcof (2007) in 2007 defined the CTO role as, "The Chief Technology Officer is the most senior executive responsible for technology in the corporation and ideally plays an important role in formulating firm strategy and ensuring that technological considerations are optimally integrated into that strategy" (Medcof, 2007. p.1 para.1).

Medcof (2008) expanded his definition of a CTO in 2008 further to "The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is usually the highest ranking technology manager in the firm and in some organisations the position is called Vice President of Technology or some other variant" Medcof (2008, p. 406).

Smith (2007) defines the CTOs relevance within the organisation as, "The CTO is a businessperson who measures innovation, research and experimentation by the contribution they make to a company's revenues and future competitive advantage" (Smith, 2007, p. 21).

"The modern CTO position calls for a technologist or scientist who can translate technological capabilities into strategic business decisions" (Smith, 2003, p. 2).

Hartley (2011) believes that the role is dynamic "The CTO is a new and evolving role, having been first utilised over the last few decades" (Hartley, 2011, para. 1).

All of the above disparate definitions all talk to the fact that the CTO is a technical expert who assumes the role of the highest ranking technical employee within the organisation, who is responsible for innovation which enables the firm to gain competitive advantage and who plays an integral part in defining corporate strategy and execution thereof.

Strategy Definition

The CTO plays a key role in the definition of the organisation's corporate strategy, a sentiment which is echoed by numerous academics.

"The CTO is the most senior executive responsible for technology in the corporation and ideally plays an important role in formulating firm strategy and ensuring that technological considerations are optimally integrated into that strategy" (Medcof, 2007, p.23). Roberts (2001) agrees with Medcof and believes that one of the responsibilities of the CTO is in assisting to define and execute the corporate strategy. (Roberts 2001)

Medcof and Atkinson's view is that the CTOs involvement in corporate strategy definition

Involves selling the technology strategy to the executive team, persuading them to alter the firm's strategy to accommodate the technology strategy, and to agree to adjustments of the technology strategy to fit firm strategy. In short, it is the CTOs role to lead the harmonisation of technology and business strategy within the context of the executive committee (Medcof and Atkinson, 2009, p. 25).

Roberts (2001) found that in technology driven organisations, the degree to how tightly coupled the technology strategy and corporate strategy are correlates to its overall effectiveness. This may be attributed to as Hartley (2011) puts it, "The CTO can help to link strategy with research and development activities, a link that may have been absent previously" (Hartley, 2011, p. 34). Flynn also highlights the importance of the CTO involvement in the corporate strategy definition process when he says that "The CTO understands the company's strategic direction; this in turn requires an understanding of the nature of the corporate strategy and the strategy formulation process" (Flynn, 2006, p. 5).

When Medcof (2008) states that "The effective integration of technology into firm strategy is essential for the success of firms in technology-driven industries", (Medcof, 2008, p.406) he is reaffirming the sentiments of his fellow academic colleagues.

The CTO can also heavily influence the company culture and assist in creating a culture that fosters an acceptance of technology. Smith (2003) concludes that "CTOs can also play an important role in creating the internal culture; specifically the CTO should initiate activities and policies that create a technology friendly culture aligned with the company's business strategy" (Smith, 2003, p.32).

The overall impact of the CTO and the role they play in integrating technology into corporate strategy is well understood, however it is important to highlight that the CTO has a just as important role to play in terms of intercompany processes as Thurlings and Debackere, (1996) state, driving intercompany innovation processes, and determining how best to manage large and complex projects being a key activity of the CTO. (Thurlings and Debackere, 1996).

Smith (2007) believes that the CTO position "calls for an operational executive who can make important strategic decisions that impact the competitive advantage of the company." (Smith, 2007, p. 18) and Ferdows and Adler believe that "assessing technological aspects of major strategic initiatives" (Ferdows and Adler, 1990, p.59) is one of the five major activities that a CTO deems important.

Hartley (2011) sums up the theme of corporate strategy definition nicely when he says "Since integrating technology and corporate strategy is one of the primary functions of a CTO, this study indicates that a CTO can positively impact company performance." (Hartley, 2011, p. 29).

Competitive Advantage

A key measurement tool of an organisations performance would be to look at whether or not it has a competitive advantage over its competitors within the market place.

The father of corporate strategy, Michael E. Porter feels that

Technology has a significant role in competitive advantage if it has a significant role in determining relative cost position or differentiation. Since technology is embodied in every value activity and is involved in achieving linkages among activities, it can have a powerful effect on both cost and differentiation. (Porter, 1985, p. 63).

Hartley (2011) believes that competitive advantage had a big role to play in the creation of the CTO role initially when he says "new product development has driven companies to create a Chief Technology Officer position to lead and direct technology development activities". (Hartley, 2011, p. 28).

Medcof and Atkinson (2009) also support this notion, as they believe that it is the responsibility of the organisational CTO to head up the expeditionary leadership role of

Coordination and leadership across business functions to ensure the progress of technology based innovations, driving commercialization across functions, solving business unit emergency problems that involve technology, scanning for and accessing external sources of technology, scanning for technological competitive intelligence, identifying and evaluating threats and opportunities contained in technological discontinuities, and leading technological alliances and collaborations with other organizations. Medcof and Atkinson (2009, p.26).

While there are many contributing factors that can determine whether or not an organisation has a competitive advantage within the marketplace a CTO is a very important factor in that process as, as Ferdows and Adler (1990) put it a, "CTO can contribute to agility by facilitating the process of tapping opportunities emerging among technology suppliers, developing products and processes that capitalise on new technological opportunities, and marshalling the complementary skills and resources needed to effectively exploit these innovations" (Ferdows and Adler, 1990, p.61).

Medcof and Atkinson (2009) also talk to the fact that the CTO is not only a short term role as they believe that "senior technology leadership is involved in decisions that tend to extend for a time horizon of 10 to 20 years or even longer" (Medcof and Atkinson, 2009, p. 6) which further affirms the fact that the CTO is a key player in creating and helping sustain competitive advantage.

This is discussed further by when he says Flynn (2006) "To be effective, CTO's must appreciate how emerging technologies can give a company a competitive advantage and be able to take a global view of technology management" (Flynn, 2006, p. 4).


In line with this "global" view, one of the most important roles a CTO fills is that of innovation leader, as this is the key enabler of gaining competitive advantage.

Burgelman, Christensen, and Wheelwright, (2004) believe that "Established high-tech companies typically spend at least 5 percent of sales on technology and innovation-related activities" (Burgelman, Christensen, and Wheelwright, 2004, p.1) this is a sizable investment that organisations make in innovation, it can therefore be assumed that innovation is an important strategic initiative.

Smith (2003) said

a CTO who embodies current knowledge, is networked with company engineers, has years of experience and has access to executive decision makers is a valuable resource in recognising important new technologies and bringing them into the company's strategic decision making process (Smith, 2003, p. 3).

and Uttal et al. (1992) believe that one of the main responsibilities of the CTO role was in "leading new technology and innovation developments" (Uttal et al., 1992, p. 22).

Medcof and Atkinson (2009) concur with Smith and Uttal by having stated that a CTOs role is in "leading strategic innovation, leading the introduction of knowledge management, building a company culture of innovation, building networks for gathering competitive intelligence on important organizational issues" (Medcof and Atkinson, 2009, p.27).

So it is therefore important for the CTO to be the organisational custodian of innovation, innovation enables new product development from the emergence of new technologies and creates advantages for the organisation in terms of their go-to-market product offering that creates an overall competitive advantage for the organisation within the industry it operates in. Ferdows and Adler (1990) believe that the supervision of new technology developments is one of the five major activities that a CTO must perform.

Porter (1985) believes that strategic innovation is a significant part of how companies can find ways for growing and building advantages, rather than just eliminating disadvantages. Deevi (2011) suggests that many organisations have augmented their R&D operations with open innovation which is evidence of organisations internalising innovation and therefore building these advantages that Porter talks about. Cannon (2005) impresses that it is the CTOs responsibility to ensure that the organisation values the intangible assets it acquires through innovation.

Keep abreast with External Technology Changes / New Product Development/ Maintaining Competitive Advantage

Innovation is assisted by the CTOs involvement with external committees and by having their finger on the pulse of new and emerging technologies, so that they can drive early adoption of such technologies. This external involvement in society plays a big role in the CTOs ability to inspire and foster innovation within organisations Smith (2003) highlights one of the main responsibilities of the CTO as "monitoring next technologies and assessing their potential to become new products or services", he also goes on to include that a CTO's role is also required to be available to government and academia as expert consultants on technology, "prominent technologists are often called upon to provide services to government, academic and professional organisations." (Smith, 2003, p.31).

Hartley's (2011) study provides empirical evidence that "the CTO position has a positive impact on innovation and financial performance of an organisation." (Hartley, 2011, p.34). If the CTOs role can impact the overall financial performance of an organisation, then that gives them significant power at board level. This theme will be explored in the next section.

A CTO's Power Base

Uttal et al. (1992) introduces the next theme of a CTO's power base nicely when they say, "when a CTO lacks credibility, it is hardly surprising that he feels disenfranchised, excluded and lacking in influence. Without credibility, the CTOs efforts are doomed to fail, a leadership gap is sure to persist" (Uttal et al., 1992, p. 15).

Ferdows and Adler (1990) include, "representing technology within senior leadership team of the organisation" as one of the five major activities of the CTO. (Ferdows and Adler, 1990, p. 58). Therefore the CTO role needs to acquire enough organisational power to be able to significantly influence the key decision makers.

External Parties/Communities

The CTO must develop other bases or influence which are largely informal, such as strong personal relationships with the CEO and other influential people, a strong informal network both inside and outside the organisation, a significant ownership position in the firm, expertise in matters other than technology including an intuitive grasp of business issues and good knowledge of the corporation and its environment. (Medcof, 2008, p. 419).

Smith (2003) also believes that representing the organisation through marketing and the media is one of the six main strategic responsibilities of the CTO that he defined in his research. Ferdows and Adler (1990) believe that, "managing the external technology environment" is one of the five major activities they defined in their research that a CTO fulfils, so this particular theme is coming through strongly in numerous pieces of literature. (Ferdows and Adler, 1990, p. 59).

In Smith's later work (2007) he believed that the CTO position emerged due to the acceleration of technologies, "it appears as if the CTO position proliferated as a result of the rapid acceleration of technologies available to become products or services." (Smith, 2007, p.22) and Ferdows and Adler (1990) agrees with Smith's sentiments by having said that "the CTO plays this integrating role made increasingly necessary by the peculiar dynamics of technological evolution". (Ferdows and Adler, 1990, p. 61).

The fact that the CTO role itself was formed out of a desperate need for technology leadership within the technology driven organisations and give the role more power over roles that are your more run of the mill C-Suite positions because of the dependency on technology consultation for most strategic decisions.

CAPEX and P&L Responsibilities

CTO's main source of power comes from their technological expertise. Ferdows and Adler's findings suggest that there are very few CTOs who have not sunk deep roots in the technical community at some point in their career. Gwyenne (1996) believes that a CTO's power base can be further widened by having P&L responsibilities, "taking responsibility for profits and losses gains credibility for the CTO where it counts -- at the highest levels of management." (Gwyenne, 1996, p. 17).

Board Responsibilities

Medcof (2007) echoes Uttal's sentiments by stating that

position and technical experience alone are not sufficient bases of power and influence in the upper echelons, but there are other power bases that CTOs can use. CTOs will not have credibility with their CEOs and other executives, unless they are seen to be both business and technically savvy. (Medcof, 2007, p.27).

Strategy Execution

Corporate strategy is only as good as its execution and here the CTO has yet another big role to play in terms of consulting to the organisational business units about technology, putting in place effective process which enable innovation as we as making almost daily important technology decisions.

"The broad mandate of the CTO is three-fold. First, is to ensure the effective operation of the technology function and it's relationships with other functions. Second, is to ensure the harmonization of firm and technology strategy. Third, is to make an appropriate contribution as a member of the top management team to the overall success of the organization through contributions that go beyond the immediate mandate of the technology function." (Medcof and Atkinson, 2009, p. 6).

Consult to inter-organisational Business units about technology

The CTO is also responsible for consulting to other areas of the organisation about technology and to assist with technology strategy. "The CTO is a technically minded person who is available to help other senior management to understand technology issues and communicate effectively with regard to technology and strategy." (Hartley, 2011, p. 34). Ferdows and Adler (1990) echo Hartley's statement when they include "coordinating among business units' technological efforts to leverage synergies and create economies of scale' (Ferdows and Adler, 1990, p. 58) in their summary of the five major activities performed by a CTO.

The role of the CTO is not like any other on the board - it is a complex role which requires a diverse skill set and must not be treated in the same manner. Smith (2011) believes "technology is both more diverse and more specialised than finance and human resources, and it may be more difficult to manage with the same top-down hierarchy used in those domains." (Smith, 2011 p.60). The complex skill set required by a CTO to meet the strategic responsibilities outlined above will be explored in the next theme.

Skill Set

Deevi (2011) opens the discussion about the next theme by stating that, "the role of the CTO is a broad and complex one requiring a breadth of skills" (Deevi, 2011, p. 9)

This breadth of skills is explored within this theme demonstrates the need for consideration of the fact that the CTO can no longer just have a depth in technical expertise to function effectively at their job but also need a breadth of other skills that are required by other C-Suite positions. Flynn (2006) states that, "whatever the precise nature of the technologies they manage; most CTO's now need a broad understanding of technology and its application to the business." (Flynn, 2006, p.4)

Smith (2003) demonstrates the need for consideration of the fact that the CTO needs visionary skills to be effective. "One of the key roles of the CTO is to provide the technical vision to compliment the business vision, setting the tone and direction for the company's technologies. Leadership, in this context, comes from being able to define what the company's products and technologies might look like in two, three, or more years." (Smith, 2003, p.4).

One of skills that came up in the literature for a CTO to have other than technical skills was financial skills. A CTO needs to have a good financial acumen in order to be to be efficient at their job because strategic decisions must be evaluated in terms of the return on investment.

Communication skills came out as another important skill and specifically the skill to be able to translate technology jargon into useful business information. Tietze, Herstatt, & Lorenzen (2007) explain it well when they say, "the need for a management function emerges with good communication skills and the capability to understand and "speak both languages", the technical and economical" (Tietze, Herstatt, & Lorenzen, 2007, para. 6).

Line management skills featured in the literature that was reviewed, however it more spoke to the fact that having had line management experience gave the CTO more credibility within the top management team. Gwynne (1996) explains this well when he says,

overall, CTOs who have line responsibility come out strongly in favour of the experience - for their companies and themselves. In certain types of corporation, which include technology-based companies of all sizes, and particularly small start-ups and business units that rely heavily on technology, they see the mixture of roles as almost indispensable (Gwynne, 1996, p.20).

In reviewing the existing academic literature available, many different CTO skills were mentioned throughout the text as advantageous for a CTO to possess. Below is a summary of the most frequently discussed skills that will form the basis for validation after the research has been collected and analysed.






Building strategic technology alliances inside and outside the organisation

Vision and confidence

Creating something new in order to exploit a unique opportunity and having the personal gravitas to sell the vision to gain organisational wide buy-in

Technical expertise

Deep roots within the technical field and keeping abreast of technology changes within their industry

Field experience

Understanding of the issues experienced in the day-to-day operations

Interpersonal skills

People skills, motivational and mentoring ability


Setting a strategic vision, aligning people, motivating and inspiring people

Conversing at business executive level

CTOs must understand the issues confronting the business as a whole, not just the technical issues

Business (not just technical) savvy

Must appreciate non-technical facets, especially the financials of strategic decision making to gain credibility with CEO and other executives


The ability to sell the technology strategy to the rest of the board as well as being able to translate technical details into real customer advantages that are superior to those of competing products

General management skills

Ability to manage HR, intellectual property, knowledge management, R&D expenditure and projects. Ability to understand how the organisation works in order to plan and manage execution of strategy and projects



Table : CTO Skills

Medcof and Atkinson (2990) provide a great brief summary of the skills required for CTOs to have to meet their strategic responsibilities as, "technical skills are specific to the technical field in which the individual has training or work experience. Interpersonal skills are those that enable one to manage people effectively. Administrative/Conceptual skills have to do with the ability to understand how the organisational system works, what it is capable of doing, planning and managing execution. These are most critical for senior leadership who carry out these functions at the highest level." (Medcof and Atkinson, 2009, p. 6-7).


Many strategic responsibilities and skills required to meet those responsibilities have been explored within this Chapter. In order to aid in a better understanding, a graphical representation of the different themes explored is presented below.

Figure : Theme Relationships

A CTO requires a certain skill set (discussed in Chapter Six) to make strategic decisions on behalf of the organisation and execute them. By making the right strategic decisions and executing them effectively, it creates a competitive advantage for the organisation. In order to maintain competitive advantage, the organisation must continue to innovate and through innovation of new technical products and services, it increases the organisation power the CTO has as now the board can quantify the CTO's value add on the bottom line. This organisational power then allows a CTO to broaden their skill set by taking on more board responsibilities.

To re-iterate, the purpose of this research paper is to define the strategic responsibilities of a CTO and the skills necessary to meet those responsibilities within technology driven organisations. In order to conduct the necessary research to answer these two questions, the themes that emerged from the academic literature formed the foundation of the interview questions that the participants were be asked in the exploratory interviews I conducted.

The reason the themes had to form the basis of the interview questions was to ensure that all of the different facets of the CTO role were explored and discussed, to ensure a complete dataset in which to analyse.

The relationship between the research questions outlined in the next Chapter and the themes explored in this Chapter are depicted in research consistency matrix in Table 2 below.


Propositions (Research Question)

Literature Review

Data Collection Tool


Defining Corporate Strategy

What role do you play in helping to define the corporate strategy of your organisation? OR What deliverable are you required to submit which are used as inputs in defining the organisations corporate strategy?

Edler; 2002; Smith, 2007; Medcof, 2008; Uttal et. Al, 1992

Interview Question No:1

Defining the CTO involvement in Corporate Strategy Definition.

Skill Set

Other than technology specific ones, what skills do you believe are necessary for a CTO working within a technology driven organisation to have?

Edler; 2002; Smith, 2007; Medcof, 2008; Uttal et. Al, 1992

Interview Question No:2

A comprehensive list of skills required by CTOs to perform their function other than those which are technical.


What role do you play in the innovation of new technologies, or new technology enabled business process optimisation projects? What skills do you believe make you better at leading innovation for your organisation?

Edler; 2002; Smith, 2007; Medcof, 2008; Uttal et. Al, 1992

Interview Question No:3

Looking specifically at Innovation compiling a comprehensive list of skills required for 'innovators' and defining the CTOs role in innovation within the organisation.

Competitive Advantage

How does your organisation utilise technology to gain a competitive advantage within the marketplace? What are some of the specific roles you have played with implementing these technology enablers?

Edler; 2002; Smith, 2007; Medcof, 2008; Uttal et. Al, 1992

Interview Question No:4

To understand to what degree the organisation is technology dependant and how they effectively utilise technology to gain/increase competitive advantage within the marketplace.

Executing Corporate Strategy

How dependant is the corporate strategy on the technology strategy? If possible please provide some examples of technology enablers of corporate strategy.

Edler; 2002; Smith, 2007; Medcof, 2008; Uttal et. Al, 1992

Interview Question No:5

Defining the degree to which corporate and technology strategy is linked (the degree to which the CTO has an impact on overall corporate strategy) and therefore the CTOs responsibilities thereto.

Table : Consistency Matrix

Chapter Three - Research Questions

This research report aims to answer two main questions, being:

What are the strategic responsibilities of a CTO?

What are the skills required to meet the strategic responsibilities of a CTO?

The following questions will be used in ascertaining the required information to answer the above questions from the face-to-face expert interviews:

Interview Questions:

What role do you play in helping to define the corporate strategy of your organisation? OR What deliverables are you required to submit which are used as inputs in defining the organisations corporate strategy?

Other than technology specific ones, what skills do you believe are necessary for a CTO working within a technology driven organisation to have?

What role do you play in the innovation of new technologies or new technology enabled business process optimisation projects? What skills do you believe make you better at leading innovation for your organisation?

How does your organisation utilise technology to gain a competitive advantage within the marketplace? What are some of the specific roles you have played with implementing these technology enablers?

How dependant is the corporate strategy on the technology strategy? If possible, please provide some examples of technology enablers of corporate strategy.

Chapter Four - Research Methodology

Research Method

This study aims to define the strategic responsibilities of a Chief Technology Officer and the skills required to meet those responsibilities within technology driven organisations. These responsibilities have changed over recent years with the emergence of new technologies and their implementation into the workings of large organisations.

A descriptive, qualitative research approach was taken facilitated by ten semi-structured, expert interviews with CTOs within technology driven organisations to describe the strategic responsibilities of a CTO and the skills required to meet those responsibilities from interpreting the interviewee's words. Open ended questions were asked of the interviewee to supplement their answers with qualitative information as per the overall research study approach.

An expert is described by Belting (2008) as a, "person who has a high degree of skill and knowledge in a certain domain, field or industry due to long‐time experience and has status, power‐to‐act and decision‐making opportunities based on these skills and knowledge." (Belting, 2008, p. 1)

The research method was chosen based on research best practise for eliciting knowledge from experts Belting (2008) as the study intends to reconstruct the knowledge of experts. Roller (2011) confirms the chosen research method by advising that "successful research with the corporate executive still lies in the warm, personal connections we make in the face-to-face mode". (Roller, 2011, p. 18)

Expert interviews fall under the semi-structured interview method of data collection (Belting, 2008). This type of data collection method focuses on collecting qualitative information. Information obtained is largely a description and interpretation of the interviewees' words. The main aim of the interviewer is to understand the topic in question from the point of view of the interviewee. In the case of expert interviews, the latter will be considered knowledgeable in the field of study or topic (Belting, 2008; Tjitra, 2011, Valenzuela and Shivastava, 2008).

McNamara (1996) concurs by stating that "interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant's experiences. The interviewer can pursue in-depth information around the topic." (McNamara, 1996, p. 1).

To ensure a structured approach to applying the chosen research methodology, the seven steps of 'Interview Investigation' defined by Tjitra (2011) will be adopted those being:

Thematising - formulate the purpose of the investigation and describe the concept of the topic to be investigated before the interview starts.

Designing - consider all seven stages to obtain the intended knowledge/outcome and taking into account the moral implication.

Interviewing - base on the interview guide, reflective approach to the knowledge sought and the interpersonal relation of the interview situation.

Transcribing - prepare the interview material for analysis, including a transcription of oral speech into text and notes on other factors eg: body language.

Analysing - decide method/unit of analysis to transform the results into a readable product.

Verifying - ascertain reliability and validity of data obtained (answers).

Reporting - transforming the verified results into a readable product.

(Tjitra, 2011, p. 10)

Population and Unit of Analysis

The proposed population of the study is only CTO's that work in technology driven organisations, the size of the population is unknown.

Due to the nature of the research study and chosen research design, a non-probability convenient sample of the population was chosen as the research project's study frame.

A non-probability sample was chosen over a probability sample due to the fact that the interviewees will be chosen based on ease of access the interviewer has to the interviewee and the firm type the interviewee works for. Therefore the respondents within the sampling population do not have a known non-zero probability of selection.

Size and Nature of sample

The size of the population sample that was used to carry out this research was ten respondents which have the corporate title of Chief Technology Officer within technology driven organisations.

Technology driven organisations as defined in Chapter One are organisations in which the use of technology is critical to day-to-day functioning of the organisation, a few examples of such organisations would be: financial institutions, internet service providers, telecommunications companies and any other company that cannot deliver a service or product to a customer without the use of technology.

Of the ten respondents within the sample group, a significant effort was applied to try and achieve a diversified sample of large, medium and small organisations at a ratio of 4:3:3.

Should the diversification of the sample be deemed too difficult to obtain access to, then the sample set will be compiled based on ease of access to interviewee.

Data Collection, Data Analysis and Data Management

Data Collection

The data collection method applied is one of recording of the interview with the subject matter experts and then utilising a technological tool called Dragon Naturally Speaking which is speech recognition software to transcribe the interview into text while manually validating the accuracy of the transcription using spot check audits of the transcription.

One hour per interview was allocated and the place where the interview took place was at the convenience of the interviewee.

After the interview is transcribed into text, the interviewer then combined the notes taken on the other visual factors from the interview with the transcribed text.

Roller (2006) includes six hints and tips on executive interviewing in her Meeting Executives Face-to Face article, those being:

1. Positive preliminary contact and scheduling

2. Clearly-defined and achievable goals

3. Flexibility - personalizing the interview

4. Distinguishing between useful and not useful input

5. Listening skills - exploring what is said and not said

6. Limited researcher involvement

(Roller, 2006, p. 1-6)

Data Analysis

"The messiness of the interconnections, inconsistencies, and seemingly illogical input we reap in qualitative research demands that we embrace the tangles of our conversations by conducting analyses close to the source" (Roller, 2011, p. 15).

Again, a technological qualitative data analysis tool will be used to organise and analyse the data. This tool Atlas.ti, will be utilised to organise the data (transcriptions) into logical categories and index the different pieces of data for easy retrieval. Atlas.ti is a scientific software tool for the qualitative analysis of large pieces of data and is widely recognised as a tool which enables researchers to uncover phenomena in textual data.

Atlas.ti will also be used to code transcriptions into key themes, concepts, questions or ideas using an inductive approach to defining the categories of the codes.

The coding will then be utilised to build up conceptual frameworks based on common understanding/themes from the different respondent's expert knowledge.

Data Management

The management of the data is of the utmost importance as it provides the content and evidence for the entire research project. Therefore numerous backups of the data will be made, one will be stored online virtually, one will be stored on the local computer of the researcher and another will be stored on an external hard drive.

The redundancy of numerous storage facilities ensures that the data from which the entire research project is based is not lost or the integrity compromised at any point.

Data Validity and Reliability

The nature of qualitative face-to face research is that the question-answer validation can take place right away, so no misinterpretation is experienced when transcribing the interview into text.

Roller, (2011) states that "by probing and clarifying questions on the spot to unearth any possible misinterpretations or meanings, this question-answer validation enables the researcher to maximise the quality of individual responses" (Roller, 2011, p. 5).

Tjitra, (2011) concurs with Roller by stating that "our best guarantee of the validity of our material is careful, concrete level, interviewing within the context of a good interviewing relationship" (Tijitra, 2011, p. 21). So to a large extent, it is up to the interviewer to ensure that the interviewee fully understands the question and context and builds up a good rapport with the interviewee to be able to extract the most honest and through answers throughout the interview process as possible.

Interviewer bias

Errors that occur within qualitative research are often introduced by the researcher and are not easy to detect. In order to minimise the potential for interviewer bias, interviews were transcribed on a word for word basis and a professional opinion was elicited to objectively review the codes and coding used to analyse the transcribed interviews to check for interviewer bias in the data analysis.

"Being highly aware of error introduced by convenience samples, as well as non-sampling errors (such as interviewer and selection bias in recruiting, moderator and response bias in the discussions themselves), qualitative researchers build in measures to control error in their selection and interviewing procedures" (Roller, 2011).

Potential Research Limitations

Due to the nature of this study, including time constraints, various limitations have been identified. These include:

A limited sample frame of eight CTOs will be interviewed

Using non-probability convenient sampling could introduce subjective bias

McNamara (1999), identifies the following limitations to this method of research:

They are not appropriate if quantitative data are needed

They may be biased if informants are not carefully selected

They are susceptible to interviewer biases

It may be difficult to prove validity of findings

(McNamara, 1999, p. 2).

Meuser and Nagel (1991) identify additional potential limitations of this research method to be prepared for and aware of, when conducting the interview:

The expert blocks the interview in it's course, because he or she proves not to be an expert for this topic as previously assumed

The expert tries to involve the interviewer in on-going conflicts in the field and talks about internal matters and intrigues of his or her work field instead of talking about the topic of the interview

He or she often changes between the role of an expert and a private person, so that more information results about him or her as a person than about his or her expert knowledge

As an intermediate form between success and failure the 'rhetoric interview' is mentioned. This is when the expert gives a lecture on his or her knowledge instead of joining the question - answer game of the interview. If the lecture hits the topic, this form of interaction makes it difficult to return to the actual relevant topic.

(Meuser and Nagel, 1991, p. 449-450)

Chapter Five - Results

Description of Sample

The research sample was drawn from technology driven organisations within South Africa as previously outlined within the research methodology section. All interviewees are currently in Chief Technology Officer positions within their respective organisations and the sample comprised of a mixture of small, medium and large organisations.

It was originally intended to interview a total of ten CTOs, however only a total of eight interviews were conducted. Seven of the interviews were conducted face to face and one interview was conducted telephonically due to the geographically location of the interviewee. The semi-structured exploratory interviews lasted on average 60 minutes.

The interview was conducted in sequence of the interview questions using the interview guide in Appendix 9.2 - interview probes were also used where appropriate outlined in the interview guide.

Due to the organisational role that the CTO fulfils, their time is precious and securing an hour in their calendar was a challenge. It was also a challenge finding CTOs as it is not the most common C-Suite role within South African organisations, and gaining access to these individuals was also challenging.

Difficulty in Securing Interviews with CTOs

The ease of access to CTOs to interview for this research project was slightly overestimated and proved to be more difficult than planned. The CTO is just as well guarded as any other board member of the organisation and numerous administrative requirements were needed to be met in order to gain access to them and secure an interview slot.

Confidentially of company details

For confidentially purposes, the anonymity of the interviewees and organisations they work for must be maintained in line with the research methodology outlined in Chapter Four.

To ensure the confidentially of respondents was upheld, each was required to sign a consent form (Appendix 9.1). Fulfilling this requirement helped to illicit more open and complete information from the CTOs interviewed.

Interviewees will be identified throughout this report by a random identifier therefore allowing the data to remain clean while also ensuring organisational anonymity.











Size of Organisation









Technology Dependant Organisation









Industry Sector







ICT Services

ICT Services

Marketing CTO





Operational CTO














Table : Interview Sample

Patterns observed in the research sample

While interpreting the results of the data, patterns started to emerge that were significant enough to constitute further analysis. The first pattern was that the respondents fell into two distinct groups; CTOs interviewed were classified as either a Marketing CTO or an Operational CTO.

Three interviewees actually alluded to this distinction in the interview and upon further exploration, the two distinct types started to emerge with the following attributes:

The portfolio of the Operational CTO is evident in companies 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8:

They are highly dependent on technology and are the primary consumers of the technology for operational purposes

The CTO is predominantly client facing

The profile of the Marketing CTO is evident in companies 2, 4 and 6:

They are either secondary users of technology, or resell another organisations primary technology

The CTO is primarily non-client facing

As you can see from the above distribution, there is a larger representation of operational CTOs within the research sample.

The whole research sample, both operational and marketing CTOs, stated that the skill set required by a CTO is the same as that for any other C-Suite level employee, however it also demands an in-depth knowledge and technical expertise. This pattern will be explored in more detail later on in this Chapter.

For simplicity and ease of reviewing the data, relating to the 'marketing type' CTOs responses are highlighted in grey.

Research Results

In Table 3 on page 27 represents the distribution of CTOs interviewed from the initial sample population that satisfied the key attributes emerged through themes within the literature review in Chapter Two of this report as well as the pre-defined research questions in Chapter Three.

The responses received from the sample group interviewed, enabled the research questions to be answered and thus satisfied the research objectives.

There were five research questions that were asked in each interview, these were outlined in Chapter Three. The interview guide (Appendix 9.2) provided for a solid base to probe each interviewee and the probing questions were modified in the interview as and when the situation called for it.

Probing questions were often used in the interviews to obtain a complete answer to the research question; the results of each question will now be discussed in detail below. Each research question will be analysed using the reoccurring themes that came up during the interviews, to represent the patterns in the data in order to enable rich analysis and interpretation.

The research results below are grouped by the respondents answer and the relevant theme that emerged is also tabulated to assess how frequently the them was referenced by the respondent in their reply. This allows the researcher to identify emerging trends within the responses.

The CTOs Role is Defining Corporate Strategy

The first interview question that was asked of each participant was 'what role do you play in helping to define the corporate strategy of your organisation?', or 'What deliverable are you required to submit, which are used as inputs in defining the organisations corporate strategy?'

Results for question one are represented in tables X below:




We have global group strategy and then we take that (shows book) and use it as the high level input into our strategy and see what we are going to do locally to align to it


I have a say in pretty much all aspects of senior level decision making and I have an input on pretty much everything we do


Our corporate strategy is pretty much the technical roadmap and we align business goals with the technical stuff we do which I define.


As a CTO you need to understand the technology stacks and then you can leverage those core strategies within the organisation to get to where you want to be with the overall corporate strategy yet have a solid platform or underlying infrastructure to exploit all of these new features and functionalities.


From overall strategy point of view my portfolio is looking out to the investment plans so capital investments and looking out for example or the infrastructure that we put in


So my role in corporate strategy - so technology forms the foundation of the corporate strategy but it's not a technology strategy per se the strategy is built on the technology so technology is fundamental to our business we only make money from the technology.


I play a big role in helping to define corporate strategy I think that its very important to have a tool which allows you to have insight into technology trending and foresight so that the business strategy is moulded around the technology strategy so that you have the ability to scale your organisation as technology changes.


I am very involved in defining the corporate strategy in that I define the product strategy and that determines what products we are going to deliver and the strategy around that is that drives a lot of what we do.

Table : Interview responses on the role played in defining corporate strategy

Pertinent Quotes from Research Question One:

'Technology succeeds because they are ecosystems and politics that drive economics' beneath the politics of technology.'

Participant 6

'There is a lot of differentiation in terms of what CTO role is played by the individual depending on their personality'.

Participant 6

Of the CTOs interviewed, all had a significant input into the corporate strategy. To varying degrees, helping to define corporate strategy is a key responsibility for the respondents.

The fact that only technology dependant organisations were included in the research sample meant that the researcher was looking to find the result of the respondents contributing heavily to the organisational strategy, however the interesting pattern that emerged from research question one is that the marketing CTOs appear to have a larger say in the overall organisational strategy whereas the operational CTOs mainly contributed in terms of supporting the underlying technology, as an enabler of the overall organisational strategy. Both roles are as equally important, just in a different way.

Skills necessary for a CTO to Have

Interview question two that was: 'other than technology specific ones, what skills do you believe are necessary for a CTO working within a technology driven organisation to have?'

Results for question two are represented in tables X below.




General management skills and effective people management/soft skills are also very important because you need people to execute what you lay out and the better the people you have working for you and the better they are managed the more successful it will be.


The best way to describe the skills that are needed to do my job would be everything


You need to adjust with individuals different personalities in your team so people skills are very important as well as pre-sales


You can't be a one-dimensional individual being business savvy is very important.


I think you've got understand the financials a lot more now than you used to have two as a big part of my portfolio is managing the Capex and operating costs and so on


Being a CTO is also a political game but most importantly in you need to be more of an I-shaped person rather than a T-shaped person, so it's important to have depth and breadth of functional skills to be a good CTO.


Pretty much I think it's a case of having started in the various back office type functions and having intimate product knowledge.


People skills are a big thing because it's one thing understanding technology but understanding the way or the manner in which people interact with the technology or the way customers expect the technology to work or look or feel or act is critical.

Table : Comments skills believed to be necessary for CTOs

Pertinent Quotes from Research Question Two:

'You can't be a one-dimensional individual. Being business savvy is very important.' Participant 4

'Aware of the external market - it is important to be first to market with new products because of the consumer perception that you are the best'

Participant 1

'I think general finance skills and general business skills and to grow the business because I find if you just focus on the technology and operational side you will never identify opportunities where you could exploit products and increase revenue and places where you can add value'

Participant 5

'The other skill that I think is quite key you need to understand the financial impact which a lot of CTO's battle with, as much as the financial aspect of the hardware is important the financial impact of the hardware interacting with the whole network is also vital so finance skill is also very important. '

Participant 8

Question two was the most interesting of the study to analyse.

The range of skills tabulated was sizable, however all participants emphasises the importance of the fact that the role of the CTO does not just require depth in technical understanding but they also require a breadth in other skills which are required by other C-Suite positions.

There is enough evidence to support the fact that the skill set required by a CTO is larger than that of another C-Suite position and is justly a key player at the board level.

A CTOs Role in Innovation

Interview question three was: 'what role do you play in the innovation of new technologies, or new technology enabled business process optimisation projects? What skills do you believe make you better at leading innovation for your organisation?'

Results for question three are represented in tables X below.




Unfortunately we don't do as much innovation as I would like because of having a lot on our plate in recent years with ramping up our data network. But we do have an innovation lab and a team that trials new products in the lab.


I am continuously looking at the market and trying to predict what the markets can do because sometimes new technologies take a while to plan before you can start executing on them so we were generally start to execute on a plan within 6 to 12 months


So we give our team Carte Blanche to come up with new ideas and they are given budget to try and prove the concept, it does not happen