Archive for August, 2009

Role of the Chief Technology Officer

August 27, 2009

Given the title of my Blog ‘Chief Technology Officer’s Blog’ – I thought it would be a good idea to briefly explore it’s namesake.

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, etc).  The role has been gaining prominence in many organizations, as witnessed with the newly created position of Chief Technology Officer of the United States.  This can be attributed to the growing impact of technology on both organizations and society, and highlights an expansion of focus beyond Research and Development to broader Competitive Strategy.

According to Wikipedia

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 size and type of the organization heavily influences the responsibilities of a CTO.  For instance, a small technology company would involve more hands-on technical responsibilities than a large financial services company, which would involve more responsibilities associated with technology standards and integration.

Where the roles of CTO and CIO coexist within an organization, the CTO is typically responsible for the company’s technology direction (R&D) with a focus on commercialization outcomes, whereas the CIO is typically responsible for the company’s business systems supporting the flow of information.

The white paper The Role of the CTO: Four Models for Success written by Tom Berray and Ray Sampath provides interesting insight into the role of the CTO based on discussions with hundreds of CIOs and CTOs.  It proposes a model that dissects the CTO role based on organizational needs, as follows:

CTO Role By Organizational Needs

CTO Role By Organizational Needs

The white paper then identifies and ranks 10 business requirements and processes needed for each of the CTO models, which I have represented visually below:
[Green = High, Yellow = Medium, Orange = Low]

Identify new technologies

1. Identify new technologies

Exploit new technologies

2. Exploit new technologies

Integrate new technologies

3. Integrate new technologies

Leverage technology across business units

4. Leverage technology across business units

Drive the business strategy

5. Drive the business strategy

Drive revenues

6. Drive revenues

Reduce costs

7. Reduce costs

Enhance client relationships

8. Enhance client relationships

Enhance communications and collaboration

9. Enhance communications and collaboration

Build out or leverage existing IT infrastructure

10. Build out or leverage existing IT infrastructure

I agree that an effective CTO needs to perform each of these 10 business requirements and processes to a varying degree depending on organizational needs.  Out of interest, I rated the perceived needs of my organization against these 10 business requirements and processes, and found the closest match for my role of CTO to be ‘Visionary & Operations Manager’, closely followed by ‘External-Facing Technologist’.

To finish, I quote Barak Obama in his 2008 plan Science, Technology, and Innovation for a New Generation where he announced the need to appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer

Revolutionary advances in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and other fields are reshaping the global economy.  Without renewed efforts, the United States risks losing leadership in science, technology and innovation.