Another 'C'hief in IT?

Another 'C'hief in IT?

There is an abundance of C-level IT titles, the roles for which are different in each organisation. Mary Ann Maxwell discusses the CTO as defined by job function, organisation maturity and technology infrastructure.

Working for a company like Gartner means you get to see a lot of different IT organisation structures in action. One of the things that has struck me recently is the proliferation of C-level titles in IT. In addition to the traditional CIO (chief information officer), I see the CTO (chief technology officer), the CISO (chief information security officer) or CSO (chief security officer), the CPO (chief process officer), etc. I'll bet that I could even find some C3POs if I looked hard enough.

The position that appears to have the widest divergence in job role and responsibilities between different companies is the CTO. In some organisations, the CTO has the responsibility for the day-to-day management of the technology infrastructure, including technology deployment, network and systems management, and integration testing.

In other firms, that is the role of the CIO; the CTO is chartered with seeking out new technologies, evaluating their impact on the business process, and selectively recommending those that can dramatically affect the business.

A common thread among companies that deploy a CTO, however, is a recognition that the CIO role is becoming too diverse and demanding for one person to handle.

I can just hear the CIOs out there saying: "Great idea, someone to share the load with. Should I have a CTO? And, if so, what should he or she be responsible for?" I can't answer that question, but you can - by examining the maturity of your enterprise.

As enterprises mature, the effective deployment and management of technology become increasingly important as determinants of success. Time and time again, it has been shown that a business' abilities to craft and execute its strategy, respond to market opportunities, and ensure operational performance are correlated directly to the means by which it accesses and disseminates accurate, timely and contextual information.

Doing so effectively requires proper levels of focus and accountability at each stage of maturity, relative to organisation structure and levels of sophistication.

Although CIOs are more likely to recommend, and enterprises more likely to accept the need for CTOs in later stages of organisational and infrastructure maturity, the nature of the role is neither static nor linear - it is dynamic.

There are various qualities, patterns, and conditions that typify the relevance and success of a CTO over time.

Four distinct adaptations

There are four distinct adaptations that may be made by CTOs in response to organisation and sophistication:

Pilot. Pilot CTOs are usually found in enterprises with moderate-to-high degrees of centralisation. Pilots are both 'journey' and 'destination' focused and spend much time sorting through the ambiguity and the complexity of mapping enterprise strategy with technology strategy.

Shaman. Shaman CTOs tend to be found in large-scale, highly centralised enterprises. The authority structure inherent in such organisations dictates how well they craft and orchestrate the effective deployment of technology. Shaman CTOs seek to ensure that the mandates of the enterprise (e.g. standards) are understood and followed to support the attainment of stated goals.

Professor. Of the four CTO types, few may be tagged as professors. The dominant concern of professor CTOs is linked more to exploration than to implementation. As the name suggests, professor CTOs are enamoured with knowing the intricate details of technology - its components, its architectural fit, and its likely evolution. Professors will devote a large portion of their time to technology research and analysis, more for its own sake than for its potential contribution to the success of the enterprise.

Commando. Of the four primary types, commando CTOs are the most intimately involved with end-user groups and the least preoccupied with issues surrounding the enterprise strategy. They seek to manage technology SWAT teams geared to addressing immediate end-user needs.

As the name suggests, commando CTOs assume a whatever-works-is-right approach to transferring technology whenever it is necessary or expedient.

The success of introducing a CTO in your enterprise depends on how well you recognise and balance organisational change readiness with your desire to institute new technology advancements.

If you are going to add another 'C'hief into your IT organisation, make sure that you communicate the fit with your enterprise strategies, goals and resource capabilities.

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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