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Sam Lowe's blog on Enterprise IT

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Changes in the Role of the Enterprise CTO

I was talking with Ade McCormack of Auridian a few weeks ago on the changing nature of CIO and CTO roles that we were seeing in the organisations that we work with or talk to (mostly Western Europe-based).

Ade has incorporated some of his thoughts on the subject into his regular column in the FT last week, and it is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in IT leadership. If you didn't see it in print on Wednesday, then FT subscribers can get to it here, or it's on Auridian's site here.

Ade proposes that for organisations to be able to make use of IT effectively in developing their business model and their operating model, the CIO role needs to be far closer to, focused on, and more respected by the lines of business and the board. He describes that in order to free up the CIO to do that, you need to take away the operational side of the traditional CIO role. He proposes that the CTO role in organisations should change so it moves beyond the 'cleverest techie' that it tends to be now to apply its understanding of the technology to take operational accountabilities. He then proposes that this new repurposed role could then be supported by managers with the people skills and operational focus to run the IT department machine.

I like a lot of what Ade describes here, it has a lot of overlap with what I see. The CTO role as it exists in some organisations today can be a strange one. It is a term that has come from technology-centric companies such as Telcos, IT vendors etc who clearly need a technology visionary at the top of the organisation. But it has then been transposed into non-tech organisations, becoming a badge assumed by the people with the best technology expertise. But that doesn't seem appropriate for many. It can be difficult to justify the value of having a chief technical individual without accountabilities for realisation in non-tech-centric industries. Without accountabilities, CTOs' offices can become a strange kind of retained in-house IT analyst organisation, which isn't linked to value as the business would define it, and doesn't exactly help with business-IT alignment.

Of course outside of the US, organisations don't always use the terms CIO and CTO, indeed in the UK it's more common for the chief role to be IT director, however the same dynamics can still be seen. The value to decoupling operational and transformational focus, and the value of coupling technology strategy and realisation accountability both still apply.

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  • Sam,

    I have seen this model in action, with only seasoned management at the CTO level and chaos ensues as well. A non-technical CTO lacks the professional skills it takes to lead the organization effectively; however, they manage the day to day operations well enough. I agree with your comments about CTO being a part of management and accountable for business centric goals. My point is the CTO has to be both accountable for technical leadership, business goals, and a portion of IT management. I also agree with the added responsibility of CIO being closer to the lines of business. In a recent post on my blog, I noted a solution that eliminated the CIO role, and then split the responsibilities, pushing some up to the COO, and part of them down to the CTO.

    My post on the topic:

    Also commented on Management Rants post about a similar topic:


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:17 a.m.  

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