The importance of the CEO-CTO relationship

The importance of the CEO-CTO relationship
December 13, 2023  |  BY

Executives understand that cutting edge technology and innovative business strategies can only take the enterprise so far. To truly reach your organization’s goals, there must be healthy, cooperative relationships where everyone works closely together for the common good. But in 2023, perhaps no relationship is more crucial than the one between CEO and CTO.

The reason is simple: No matter how your enterprise has to adjust to the market from a service or product delivery standpoint, technology is the route for shifting how you actually get there. CEOs can no longer afford to only have weekly or occasional check-ins with technology leaders; rather, they must be as thick as thieves, with constant communication to ensure ongoing alignment between strategy and execution.

We’re not merely expressing an opinion. According to a recent survey of CEOs, business and IT collaboration has become one of the most crucial priorities for CEOs. Granted, this has increasingly been the case since the dotcom boom. But today’s economic uncertainty and turbulent social conditions call for the tech/business leader relationship to be even more collaborative.

That said, CEOs and CTOs must work hand in hand to tackle a variety of challenges. For one, they must make upgrading IT and data security a priority. Of course, this has always been a concern for technology leaders, but increasing threats from overseas – specifically from China and Russia – have placed the issue in clearer focus for CEOs. The survey illustrates that over 25% of CEOs have timelines where security must improve by the end of 2024.

The customer experience has traditionally been the responsibility of middle level management. Folks who run marketing, sales, and obviously the customer service department handle all issues related to transactions. Yet technology is now central to the omni-channel customer experience, in terms of how people shop for, purchase, and potentially return items via their devices.

As such, revenue and profits are entirely dependent on a robust technology platform, which is why CEOs and CTOs must continually collaborate on aligning business and technical strategies, and investing in technologies and processes that improve the customer journey.

Digital transformation is another initiative that requires a close-knit CEO/CTO relationship. In fact, in the study cited here, 25% of CEOs placed digital transformation within the three most vital projects for their CTO counterparts. That might not be surprising – after all, digital transformation has been one the most publicized initiatives in the business world for many years. Yet the spotlight tends to be shone on the project itself rather than the relationships that are necessary to foster it. And the relationship between CEO and CTO is, without question, the most important aspect of digital transformation. Again, the strategy is only as good as the relationships between the people who create it.

No matter the industry, we’re experiencing an era where job titles and roles are morphing and blending. The technical field, be it a leader or engineer, is perhaps the best example of this flexibility. Until recently, the CEO would never (or rarely) discuss revenue goals with the CTO.

But now that topic is front and center in their discussions. In a sense, it’s the topic that frames and provides context for all other discussions. That’s because the quality of technology directly affects an organization’s ability to reach their revenue growth goals. Accordingly, the most successful companies are ones where the CTO consults with the CEO on tech investments and initiatives that will cut costs, improve efficiency, automate tasks, and drives sales. It’s part of the evolution of the CTO, a job that’s shifted from primarily focusing on network maintenance to being a key voice in how the company can best boost the bottom line.

To that end, it’s now standard for the CTO to be part of sales meetings and investor calls. They’re analyzing reports and assessing how, for example, an upgraded system or process can move the profit needle. Just the same, CTOs are now involved in high-level marketing decisions, providing insights into how technical processes can facilitate a campaign: How to best generate leads, how to best improve impressions, how to gain more sign-ups and subscribers.

Outside of the office, we’re all aware that the quality of anything we do improves when we have quality relationships. It’s no different in the conference room. The CEO and CTO don’t necessarily have to be best pals. But when they have a strong relationship built on mutual trust and respect, good things are bound to happen.