Chief Information Officer
With business processes being streamlined every day, the role of the chief information officer (CIO) is moving away from pure technology and more into strategic business transformation.
Many organizations have decoupled the “I” for information from the “T” for technology and created two separate roles with distinct accountabilities and deliverables.
But there are many different models – with variations depending on industry sector, maturity of company and of course the attitude and approach of the executive leadership team to technology as a strategic asset.
We have been engaged in hiring both CIOs and chief technology officers (CTOs) for leading global organizations and believe the CTO profile has four major variations.
Non-technology intensive companies will see the CTO work for the CIO as an infrastructure manager, in charge of running the infrastructure and operations of IT: data center operations, network operations, applications development & maintenance, security, and other line functions. Here the CTO’s focus is to keep the IT organization operating efficiently and to see how technology will be used to support the organization. There are relatively few examples of this model, as these tend to be non-progressive organizations where technology is often viewed as a necessary evil.
The CTO as a “big thinker” in the second model. He or she works from a position of influence, as opposed to having direct control like the line manager. The CTO reports directly to either the CIO or the CEO, and generally has a small, elite staff. In some cases, they operate alone. Responsibilities often include advanced technology, competitive analysis, and technology assessment and architecture standards. The CTO has the freedom to think in the broadest possible ways, but must wait a longer period of trial and incubation to see innovative ideas become reality.
In companies that earn their bread and butter by selling technological products or services, or those that are trying to use the Internet to gain a strategic advantage, the CTO is more likely to report directly to the top executive and have cross-organizational authority.
Jay Hoti, CTO for NETs in Singapore says he has a triple role. “Firstly, there is a need to partner with outside organizations and the CTO’s role is to find, develop and nurture these as the in-house teams tend to be focused on day-to-day projects,” he says. “CTOs have to plan for the change that will come from new project implementations to ensure service levels are not disrupted and that processes are modified to reflect new technology adoptions.”
He views this in what he calls the “three Ts” - T1 is the current state which has to operate to existing performance requirements, T2 is where the new technology cuts over and is bedding in and T3 is where the investment of the new technology delivers the innovation that was expected.
The CTO as the “visionary technologist” is the third model. Here the CTO is critical in determining how technology can be used to implement the business strategy. Here he assumes the role of a “technology visionary” becoming more than just a technical guru. Visionary technologists are successful “managers” of organizations when they understand how technological instruments function in complex contexts, which include relationships among other assets.
This requires an excellent combination of both business and technical skills in order to successfully design the functional and technical aspects of the business strategy and then build the IT organization to execute its components.
Finally we have the CTO as the “externally focused technologist”. In this model, the CTO’s main role is to develop the strategic technology plan for the organization by identifying, tracking, and experimenting with new and potentially disruptive technologies. Nearly every major IT consulting company implements this CTO role. In consulting companies, the CTO is usually an equal peer of the CIO or may be considered a higher-level executive than the CIO (although the CIO does not usually report to the CTO in this case).
Recruiting for a CTO then requires a divergent search strategy – we must search across multiple disciplines, sectors and geographies to find those that exhibit best practice and have the wealth and richness of experience required for this critical role.
The common thread is to look for individuals, who have a broad base of experiences, rather than a narrow focus, as this is the best way to develop the necessary skills. CTOs need to be forward thinking but practical – meaning that they are directly helping to drive business results.
They need to have an expert knowledge of technology, superior communication skills, and be business savvy. They’ve got to be an extrovert, willing to market or sell to the CEO or the investment community the benefits of using technology. Large companies often have divisions or business units, and they have their own goals.
The CTO’s office is the one that sees across the board and needs to try to look at the goals of the company, as opposed to the goals of an individual group. The ability to see the big picture is also critical. It’s important for organizations to think strategically about the relationship between technology and their leadership needs. In other words, they must assess what kind of technology leadership is required for the growth or stabilization of their company.