Historically we have looked to the CTO to provide us with the Innovation within a business, to be the thought leader looking at what is the next big opportunity or challenge to be addressed. In the past few years though, I have seen this role change where the CTO is increasingly called upon to provide the linkage between the needs of the business and capability of the IT team to support platforms, services and toolkits of the wider organization.
I began to ask myself when did this happen and what is or will be the impact of this development? The function of the CTO role evolved at around the same time as businesses stopped being led by the products and technology they were based on and starting being businesses driven by the business. I appreciate it may sound confusing to have a Business Managed by the business but let me explain, traditionally businesses have needed to develop their own tools and systems with which to support their products and services, this was to a large degree a Black Art which CTO’s and their teams were uniquely placed to develop and integrate in order to support their existing products and services. Consider the significant investments we saw in the past in Research and development linked with large integration budgets to actually make the platforms or products viable to take to market. However this model also restricted the business in terms of what it was able to achieve as the business growth was dominantly determined by what was made available from the Technology Office.
Today however numerous new sectors exist to fulfill this traditional CTO role – SI’s, Software Businesses, Bridging Platforms, all of which have meant that businesses can look at a best of breed solution combining a business’s own capability with the products and services it can leverage from its suppliers or partners. This development has brought about a change in defining the strategy, for me it is the evolution of the CIO and the growing urgency to meet the changing needs of the business in the face of globalization, competition and endless innovation.
I would in fact challenge that the abbreviation of CIO is now more likely to mean Chief Innovation Officer, with the role of focusing on the innovation that can assist in shaping the business from the processes to the systems used to support them. Likewise I would suggest that the CTO is now equivalent to the Chief Translation Officer, taking the strategy and requirements set by the business units and translating that into the ability to execute those requirements through a combination of the products and services of the business combined with the third party capabilities which have become an ever increasing role supporting the CTO with providing the business the solutions to address the ever changing business needs. The CTO is then responsible for balancing the needs of the business with the ability to execute on that requirement through to engaging the IT and development teams to ensure their engagement in the execution of the business needs.
Now I am sure there are a number of people who will read this and say “Our CTO is clearly still focused on Innovation”, however I would challenge you to look at the change in scope of your CTO. Do you find that your CTO is increasingly involved in business discussions as opposed to looking at the latest release of your product. As mentioned in the title of this article the CTO has evolved from a Scientist to Negotiator and that this is primarily due to the changing world we are working in. With technology advancement and globalization the insights and cross functional expertise of a CTO become invaluable to any business today. The CTO today remains a rare breed with the ability to work across business and technology challenges, a skill which is increasingly needed in a rapidly changing and innovative world.