Whatever Happened to the CTO Role?

By Lorraine Cosgrove Ware
Thu, August 01, 2002

CIO — Recruiters, consultants and the media were abuzz about the chief technology officer title in the late 1990s. All that attention suggested the CTO could possibly relegate the CIO to a more tactical role or replace it altogether. However, CIO’s "State of the CIO" survey, conducted in September 2001, shows the CTO title has yet to take off. Only 65 out of 500 (13 percent) heads of IT use the CTO title. Confusion about the role, tight budgets and ambiguity have slowed widespread acceptance of the CTO title and role. The same questions posed in the survey remain today.

Will the CTO replace the CIO? "Only in technology-focused companies where technology is the product or service," says John J. Davis, president of New York City-based executive search firm John J. Davis & Associates. CIO’s "State of the CIO" survey also shows CTOs are more common in technology-related organizations like computer manufacturers, value-added resellers, IT consultancies and financial services companies. CIO’s research also shows the majority of CTOs (73 percent) work in smaller companies with annual revenue of less than $100 million.

Will the CTO share responsibilities and leadership with the CIO? There aren’t many job-sharing arrangements between the CIO and the CTO. Only 18 percent of CIOs surveyed said they share responsibilities with a CTO or deputy CIO.

Does the CTO title imply different skills than CIO? Typically, the CIO is more about strategy while the CTO is more hands-on technology. "The CIO is 99.9 percent leadership, applying technology to solve business problems," says Davis. "The CTO focuses on technology more so than strategy and vision."

Some speculate the CTO title may gain popularity in time. After all, it took a while for the CIO title to gain widespread acceptance at the executive level. However, Davis says that isn’t likely.

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