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Defining the new tech executive

Defining the new tech executive

Many organisations have decoupled the 'I' from the 'T' and created two separate roles with distinct accountabilities and deliverables. However, 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. The CTO's job profile can largely have four variations.

Technology is now an integral part of any company's business strategy. There's a growing demand for highly technology-competent individuals, who can also guide and execute the IT strategy to achieve the business goals and mission.

Today, companies are being forced to lean more and more on technology for productivity gains and business process streamlining. So, with technology being critical to business success, we have seen the emergence of a different CIO profile. It has increasingly become more process, change and operations management focused. This has been reflected in the need to move the role away from a pure technology focus and has placed a significant accountability on the CIO to produce a clear ROI for what they do.

Many organisations have decoupled the 'I' from the 'T' and created two separate roles with distinct accountabilities and deliverables. However, 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.

Our company, Heidrick & Struggles has been engaged in hiring CIOs and CTOs, for both leading global organisations and emerging future leaders, across many regions of the world.

The CTO's job profile can largely have four variations.

CTO variations

Non-technology intensive companies will see the CTO work for the CIO as an infrastructure manager who runs the infrastructure and operations of IT: data centre operations, network operations, applications development and maintenance, security, and other line functions. Here the CTO's focus is to keep the IT organisation operating efficiently and to see how technology will be used to support the organisation. There are relatively few examples of this model, as these tend to be non-progressive organisations where technology is often viewed as a necessary evil.

The CTO is a 'Big Thinker' in the second model. He works from a position of influence as opposed to direct control like the line manager. He 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 try to use the Internet to gain a strategic advantage, the CTO is more likely to report directly to the top executive and have cross-organisational authority.

Jay Hotti, CTO for NETs in Singapore, says that he has a triple role. "Firstly, there is a need to partner with outside organisations and the CTO's role is to find, develop and nurture these as the inhouse 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."

Hotti views this in what he calls the three 'T's:

* 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.

With new technologies entering the market at a faster rate the CTO has to understand what these can do to keep the business at a competitive edge. Keeping abreast of these is challenging and then transitioning your people to adapt and become proficient is another.

The visionary technologist

The CTO as the 'Visionary Technologist'-that's 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 organisations 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 organisation 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 organisation 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 a 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).

Unique search strategy

Recruiting for a CTO then requires a very divergent search strategy-one 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 (i.e. linked to driving 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 organisations 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 stabilisation of their company.

Arvind Mathur is a partner with executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in the technology and financial services practices.

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