This article originally appeared on our sister site, TechRepublic.
By Scott Patrick Mullins and Jason R. Klinowski
In today’s economy, business leaders are looking to maximize the effectiveness and productivity of their corporations while minimizing resource consumption.
Pursuant to this initiative, a new IT officer’s seat has emerged at a lofty level of the corporate hierarchy—the chief technology officer (CTO).
The validation of this new role requires its distinction and delineation from the roles and responsibilities of the CIO. And, to successfully employ this new office, it is crucial that the individuals challenged with the duties of the office of either the CIO or the CTO possess the education, experience, and skills demanded by the industry’s business leaders, employees, investors, and other stakeholders.
The CIO role
Broadly defined, the CIO is responsible for ensuring that the company’s information technology investments are aligned with its strategic business objectives. To this end, the CIO has emerged as the key executive for information assets, operations, and policy. Moreover, in most businesses, the CIO is responsible for the oversight management of such office automation tasks as desktop architecture and support, network implementation, software development, and information management. In addition, most CIO responsibilities have expanded beyond the traditional role to include both strategic and tactical duties, as well as corporate policy direction.
Because most businesses are so heavily dependent upon IT, a CIO is forced to work in a very political environment. As a result of the expansion of the CIO’s traditional role, the job of a CIO has become more stressful, more business-oriented, and less hands-on.
The duties of today’s CIOs require a skill set that includes both a strong business background and a core technical background, such as a degree in computer science or another technology-oriented discipline. However, a CIO is not (or should not be) the lead engineer or programmer. The CIO is the business executive charged with mapping IT initiatives to the goals of the organization. To accomplish this, a CIO must be a positive leader, an effective communicator (skilled in both listening and speaking), a persuasive negotiator, and a customer-orientated individual.
Where the CTO role comes in
Because the traditional CIO role has expanded away from the hands-on technical involvement and into the strategic business operations alignment arena, some companies are supporting the CIO effort by bringing in a CTO.
As the right hand of the CIO, the CTO is responsible for designing and recommending the appropriate technology solutions to support the policies and directives issued by the CIO. In so doing, the CIO is able to marry the recommended technologies to the strategic business objectives of the company. This approach establishes the CTO as the technology specialist.
As a technology specialist, the CTO should have a skill set not dissimilar to that of the CIO. However, unlike the CIO, the CTO should place more emphasis on a strong technology background and, although important, less on business education.
Specifically, in addition to some business training or experience, a CTO should be well educated and experienced in such fields as information technology, electrical engineering, or computer science. In addition, a CTO candidate should be encouraged to consider certification.
The unique CIO and CTO career paths
The career path for a CTO, vs. that of a CIO, should fork at the gateway into the executive suite.
Traditionally, technicians would progress up the ladder from technician to line manager to executive. As these one-time technicians make their journey up the corporate ladder, they are challenged with an increasing amount of responsibility, supervisory tasks, and a dwindling involvement in the technology. This journey often leads to the office of the CIO.
Now, with the creation of a CTO, a career path has emerged that precludes the dwindling of one’s involvement with the technology. Whereas the line manager (IT manager) would move into the role of the CIO, the lead engineer is now well suited to assume the role of the CTO—the glue between the CIO and line management on technology issues.
Why CIOs should bring in a CTO
Notwithstanding the modern trend of heavy corporate reliance on information systems, it may be hard to sell a company on the need to create a seat for the CTO.
Most corporate officers boards consist of the company’s top leaders. Each leader represents a unique interest of the company. The CEO represents the driving force of corporate strategy, the CFO represents economic interests, the COO represents logistic interests, and the CIO represents the information technology interests.
Each of these interests must be balanced against the others in light of the direction dictated by the CEO. Therefore, the addition of another IT-biased interest, the CTO, to the officers’ table can offset the balance of the individual interests represented by the respective officers of the corporation.
Yet that shouldn’t deter a company, or CIO, from establishing the CTO role.
Despite the necessary hierarchy between the CIO and the CTO, neither officer should underestimate the value of that person's duties.
The CTO role is a solid investment for most corporations and its value is derived from its function, not its seat at the table. Specifically, the CTO, as the right hand of the CIO, provides the company with an executive-level subject matter expert on the issues surrounding the technologies that the CIO must employ in order to achieve the company’s strategic objectives.
Therefore, joint efforts of the CIO and the CTO will be required in order to develop the technology solutions needed to meet the goals of a modern business.
Scott P. Mullins is CIO of BizSupport, Inc., a healthcare-technology consulting firm. He is a Microsoft Certified Professional with a degree in computer science and is finishing a master's degree in IT. Jason R. Klinowski is CEO of BizSupport, Inc.