Dances with Wolves

Dances with Wolves

I certainly painted myself into a corner with last month's editorial didn't I? Kind of like a magician showing you how the tricks are done. Try pulling something out of your hat now, dummy. Well, as it happens I have one last ace to pull out of my sleeve. How does "thoughtful" or "reflective" sound?

This month's cover story "Wolf at the Door" reports on the rise of the CTO (chief technology officer) position and its opportunity and threat for CIOs. You're probably thinking: "Sure, just another wanky US job description." But don't dismiss it too fast - or lightly. After all, when this publication debuted, you could count on one hand the number of CIOs in Australia. In its nascent stage, the CTO title was pretty much the bailiwick of the technology vendors. In fact, the first person I met with the title was Cisco's CTO, the late Bruce Nelson. That was three years ago. In the last year or so, CTO became the darling of dotcom companies, but now it's starting to find a home in bricks and mortar organisations.

As CIOs increasingly take a seat at the business management table, some companies - especially in the US - are handing off supervision of technical areas to a CTO. Sometimes the CTO is hired at the same level as the CIO. Other times he or she is hired by and reports to the CIO. In a perfect world the CIO-CTO model works like this: the CIO is the gatekeeper of efforts to keep IT aligned with the business goals, while the CTO is the point person for making sure the IT infrastructure is sound and able to keep pace with the demands of the business. In other words, CTO is the new title for "the person we hold accountable for all of our computer stuff".

Okay, sounds good, but take a squiz at this list. Robert Frances Group in the US, suggests these responsibilities for enterprisewide CTOs:

* Define, develop and deploy an IT architecture that maximises revenue, minimises costs, helps get and keep IT aligned with business goals and provides a firm, flexible foundation for the future.

* Ensure that all IT deployments are properly implemented, integrated and supported.

* Become the corporate subject-matter expert on all trends and developments in IT that are relevant to business.

* Oversee compliance of the corporate IT resource with relevant standards and appropriate best practices.

* Develop ground rules, performance criteria and enforcement mechanisms for service-level agreements with relevant IT service providers.

* Keep other IT team members and senior managers aware of the value of the IT architecture and implications of proposed changes or additions.

* Help educate end users on the value of the IT architecture to the business and their roles within it.

And that's why you probably shouldn't dismiss the CTO title too fast - or lightly. Because regardless of the "perfect world" CIO-CTO scenario posited by some, that list reads suspiciously like the "CIO Role" list of yore.

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