The CTO Position is Cockamamie?

Loretta Prencipe

Loraine Lawson on IT Business Edge has an interview with tech evangelist blogger JP Morganthal that includes this little dinger on the CTO role:

"CTO worries too much about the technology and doesn't have enough experience in the business. Most CTO positions I even see listed today want the person to understand how to do Perl, PHP, so I mean I think CTO is completely gone as far as a real position. No one understands the role of the CTO as an evangelist for how to apply technology to their business domain problems. The CIO is supposed to be managing the information domain, the entire volume and set of information is used to manage the business. They're both cockamamie positions that have grown up without any full comprehension of what this market would look like where we are now from 20 years ago when it first started being created."

I'm not quite sure where Morganthal is headed. I think he is on the cusp of something. (Although I might avoid calling out the CTO and CIO as "cockamamie" positions. Instead, I may have thrown epithets toward a few individuals in the role, rather than the the roles themselves.)

The issue isn't that both positions grew up "without any full comprehension of what this market would look like." No role -- invented in the last 20 years -- came with a crystal ball about what today's market would be. Every role -- whether inside IT or outside -- has been invented and then reinvented time and again.

The issue is the fuzzy logic (for lack of a better term) that creates a dividing line between CTO and CIO roles. In abstract, the market has created loose definitions: CIOs are still masters of the internal IT infrastructure, responsible for managing information and information systems, driving down costs and improving the access to information that overloads most companies. But at the same time, it's also becoming clear that CIOs are increasingly more concerned with business process, and leaving the decisions concerning actual technology choices to others in the organization.

Increasingly, that means leaving the role of managing the actual technology to somebody who is a chief technologist within the IT department. They might not have the title of CTO, but that's the role they play -- chief technologist.

I view the definition of the CTO this way: CTOs look outward first. They are seers for the next generation of technology products or services that will meet their customers' needs, even before the customers know what they'll need. The CTO owns the roadmap for creating the technology offerings that will create market share. And as developers and champions of that roadmap, they're the evangelists that must make the changes in the internal organization to meet the future needs of the organization.



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