Organizations Need Single Exec in Charge of Business Technology


A few months ago I wrote about an event put on by the MIT Sloan Symposium during which folks put forward some suggestions for a new title that would better describe the role of today's CIO. Among the suggestions: chief process officer, chief simplicity officer and chief organizational officer. The common denominator appeared to be an emphasis on broader business strategy rather than technology.


That in itself isn't a problem. Many technology pros think it's more important for CIOs to properly allocate resources, manage tech projects and communicate effectively with business executives than to perform hands-on technical tasks. But it becomes a problem if and when organizations decide to take the existing CIO role and create two roles, one for the "technical stuff" and the other for business strategy, writes Peter Kretzman on his blog. (Philip Lay, managing director of TCG Advisors, advocated this kind of an approach, calling for both a chief information technology officer and a chief process innovation officer, when I interviewed him back in 2006.)


While organizations should look for tech leaders focused on emphasizing business strategy and change, they shouldn't separate technical and more business-oriented responsibilities, opines Kretzman. A CIO too focused on technology and not enough on business will result in an IT department not in tune with business needs or goals, the dreaded IT/business misalignment. But CIOs who lack a technical background are prone to vendor manipulation, staff disrespect, and a "herding cats" mentality on technology matters, Kretzman says. He writes:

... You can't have one person (say, the CIO) responsible for strategy and still another (say, the CTO) responsible for technology. It turns out that you need the combination: a senior executive who is part of the strategic definition for the company, and who can ensure that the day-to-day decisions in information technology will be made accordingly. In other words, companies need to recognize that business projects can fail equally through technology tunnel vision or through too little attention to core technology matters by executives who spend their time elsewhere on matters they deem more "strategic."

Hmmmm. Throwing in my two cents on a title for this role, I like chief business technology officer. CBTO makes me think of C-3PO, but maybe that's not such a bad thing since, according to Wikipedia, his primary function is to "assist with etiquette, customs, and translation so that meetings of different cultures run smoothly."