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.
The title is most typically found in organizations which significantly develop or exploit information technology.
There is currently no commonly-shared definition of a CTO's responsibilities, apart from that of acting as the senior-most technologist in an organization. Depending on the nature and genesis of the organization, responsibilities may resemble in part those of chief science officer, chief strategy officer or chief information officer. In practice, the CTO will oversee technical staff at a company, particularly those engaged in the development of new technologies, especially software development. The scope of these efforts varies: whereas the CTO of an early-formation start-up may have very hands-on technical responsibilities, the CTO of an international conglomerate may deal with the representatives of foreign governments and industry organizations regarding trade policy, industry standards and joint ventures.
The focus of a CTO may be contrasted with that of a CIO in that, whereas a CIO is predisposed to solve problems by acquiring and adapting ready-made technologies, a CTO is predisposed to solve problems by developing new technologies. In practice, each will typically blend both approaches.
In an enterprise whose primary technology concerns are addressable by ready-made technologies, a CIO might be the primary representative of technology issues at the executive level. In an enterprise whose primary technology concerns are addressed by developing (and perhaps productising) new technologies, or the general strategic exploitation of intellectual property held by the company, a CTO might be the primary representative of these concerns at the executive level.
Though the position may be said to have emerged in the 1980s from that of Director of Research and Development, it came into significant use during the dot-com era of the 1990s. In such smaller, emerging companies, internally-focused, traditional CIO concerns such as office automation, regulatory compliance, data storage, security, enterprise networking, and workstation provisioning would fall initially within the aegis of the CTO. When the company- and its internal technology concerns- became larger and more complex, a CIO position might be created, reporting to either the Chief technology officer, Chief financial officer or Chief executive officer.
In older industries (whose existence may pre-date IT automation) such as manufacturing, shipping or banking, the CIO role would arise out of the process of automating existing enterprises, and any CTO-like role would emerge as internal development efforts grew to significant complexity to be of executive-level concern, perhaps through intrapreneuring, often in imitation of dot-com-style innovations.
President of the United States Barack Obama has announced that he will appoint the United States' first Chief Technology Officer to "ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st Century."