CIO or CTO: Which One Will Survive the Cloud and Keep a Seat at the Table?

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    The Evolution of the CIO

    Cloud computing will either cause the CIO role to morph into a CTO role, or will leave the CIO to “bow down to the CTO” by becoming a manager of cloud providers and of what’s left of in-house operations.

    That’s the view of Marc Malizia, co-founder and CTO at RKON Technologies, a managed cloud services provider in Chicago. In a recent interview, Malizia provided an intriguingly candid assessment of the current and future roles of the CIO and the CTO. It’s worth noting up front that RKON doesn’t even have a CIO.

    “As a technology company we are strategically driven by the CTO role,” Malizia said. “We also have the luxury of leveraging our internal consultants and managed service team to run our operation, which has somewhat eliminated the need of a CIO.”

    On that note, I asked Malizia if he sees the roles of CIO and CTO diverging or converging over time. He said he believes the roles will converge:

    Depending on your point of view, the CIO role will either morph into the CTO role or bow down to the CTO and diminish into a manager over cloud providers role and manage what is left of in-house operations, while the CTO role will sit at the C-table and discuss business strategy. This convergence is a direct result of the speed at which enterprises transition to the cloud. Cloud providers will take the traditional CIO job over by taking over the day-to-day operations, leaving the CIO to either elevate or diminish. What happens depends on two things: the structure of the company, and the personality of the CIO. Companies that value the role of IT will [provide] the CIO with [the] drive to elevate, while the other enterprises will allow them to descend or replace them with a cloud vendor manager.

    Malizia went on to say that there isn’t room for two technologists at the executive table:

    The companies that do not have a CTO will have room for the aggressive CIOs to join the ranks at the big table, while the bigger companies will only have one representative. And that will most likely be the CTO role, or the cloud modified version of that role.

    I asked Malizia how he would encapsulate the change in the role of the CIO that is specifically attributable to the emergence of cloud computing. He said the CIO’s role is shifting away from that of just a technology implementer:

    Savvy CIOs will take this opportunity and leverage cloud computing to elevate their seat at the C-level table to one of driving strategic value. Shifting the burden of supporting physical infrastructure to the cloud will enable CIOs [to have] more time to focus on adding strategic vision to the business. The cloud arms the CIO with an arsenal that can be scaled up or down on demand with almost limitless resources, giving the CIO the ability to quickly and efficiently meet the ever-changing demands of the business.

    And how about the change in the role of the CTO that is attributable to the cloud?

    CTOs have traditionally been a direct advisor to the CEO, and are responsible for finding technology that strategically drives the business. We are seeing the CTO’s role shift from mapping technology to business strategy, to finding cloud providers to address business strategy. With the emergence of cloud computing, CTOs should be leading the charge toward the cloud and cloud services, as these technologies are key components of the digital transformation sought by most companies. Today, CTOs have a chest of tools at their disposal to provide agility and scalability to their corporate IT department, empowering them to address the ever-changing demands of the business.


    I asked Malizia how the role of CIO will be different five years from now. He said it will split into two distinct functions, based on the company’s posture, needs and size:

    Smaller companies and companies that view IT as a cost center will most likely eliminate the CIO role in the years to come, in favor of a manager of cloud services position. As these companies embrace the cloud, they will be more likely to be in a position to move their entire IT infrastructure to the cloud. At that point there will be little need for a CIO, but rather a person to manage the cloud services and keep an eye on performance, SLAs, and additional offerings. These companies already have a disposition, which leverages technology to keep the lights on and does not see the strategic importance of leveraging it to drive the business, rather than the business pulling it alongside. The companies that place strategic value on IT will elevate the position so it contributes to the strategic vision of the company. CIOs that work for these companies have a unique opportunity to transition from technology doer to strategic contributor. Partnering with the business and the CMO to discover technology avenues that will drive business into the digital age, where mobility, social media, and collaboration dictate a company’s ability to survive and thrive.

    As for how the role of CTO will be different five years from now, Malizia said the CTO will continue to drive technology from a strategic position:

    The cloud will change the focus a bit, as the CTO shifts his focus from technologies to be acquired and deployed by his employer, to cloud-based services to be leveraged by his company. The shift goes from building internally to leveraging from cloud providers: from architecting and selecting technology with a five-year window, to leveraging the scalability and agility of the cloud to do things on demand, short-term or long-term. This new freedom and flexibility provide the CTO with a clean canvas to paint his strategic vision. In addition to leveraging cloud services, the CTO will be tasked with an increased focus on strategic application development, as the viability of the business of the future will be based on its ability to interact, collaborate with, and serve data to the mobile consumer.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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