Thursday, July 30, 2009

Two excellent articles on the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Which is the vaguest C*O role? Perhaps there is no single answer. Some might say it is CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), others might say it is CSO (Chief Strategy Officer). I believe CTO (Chief Technology Officer) is a strong contender in the game as well. To add clarity to a role like CTO, two questions need to be answered: (1) What are the key responsibilities of a CTO? (2) Given a company context, what is the type of CTO role that would work well? Dr. Roger Smith, a CTO himself, has written two excellent papers that address each of the two questions. Given below is a short summary of each of the papers.

CTO and responsibilities: In this paper titled “The Chief Technology Officer: Strategic responsibilities and relationships” Roger presents following responsibilities of the CTO role:

  • Monitoring and assessing new technologies
  • Strategic innovation (leveraging technologies for building competitive advantage)
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Marketing and media relations
  • Relationships with government, academia, professional organizations
  • Build company culture

Apart from the responsibilities, the paper addresses following question: What are the relationships that empower the CTO? These are relationship with: CEO and executive committee, Chief Information Officer, Chief Scientist, R&D laboratories, Sales and marketing. In HR parlance, “developing relationships” is a soft-skill and hence CTO is as much about soft-skills as about hard-skills like technology management. Some may argue, it is much more of the former i.e. soft-skills.

5 Patterns of the CTO: In this paper, Roger presents 5 dominant patterns among CTO roles especially in the US. Let’s look at each of them:

  • Genius: The Genius CTO is usually skilled at creating something new, possessing vision and confidence, and exploiting a unique opportunity. E.g. Sergey Brin (Google), Steve Wozniak (Apple).
  • Administrator: defends the organization’s budget from overspending on technology products, services and project labor. E.g. CTO of US Air Force Research Laboratory.
  • Director: leads research laboratories in creating next generation technology. E.g. Pat Gelsinger, the first CTO of Intel or Nathan Myhrvold an ex-CTO of Microsoft.
  • Executive: is the custodian of innovation process in the organization. His primary responsibility is to manage innovation leading to future competitive advantage. E.g. CTOs of companies like GE Healthcare, Corning, IBM, Cisco.
  • Advocate: leverages IT to enhance customer’s experience and interfaces with the company. This responsibility may be with CIO in many organizations. E.g. Rob Carter of FedEx.
Here is another CTO’s (John Reynold) view on these 5 patterns.

1 comment:

  1. Nice pointers.

    It varies in a startup / small co's. You don many hats. My own exp.

    - Vijayashankar