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The New Role of CIOs and CTOs

Meet The Author

Steve Taplin

Chief Information Officers (CIO) and Chief Technology Officers (CTO) have existed since the 1980s. In fact, some companies used the terms interchangeably, and people performed those roles as if they were one. CIOs primarily focus on the improvement of internal processes while CTOs are in charge of acquiring, building, and implementing customer-facing technology. The divide between these roles is narrowing, as technology plays a bigger role in the evolution of businesses today. The responsibilities of CIOs and CTOs have expanded, and companies are developing wider job descriptions and job titles for them.

A recent announcement by Standard Chartered reported the appointment of Roel Louwhoff as Chief Technology, Operations, and Transformation Officer. Before the announcement, Louwhoff was the Group Digital, Technology, and Innovation Officer. Such broad titles are now commonplace in big companies.

The need for new titles

Titles are more than just fancy words. They show that companies are in tune with the evolution of  technology and the need for agility. The pandemic, for instance, saw companies embrace . Synergies that were not visible before came into view, and weaknesses were exposed. Businesses had to reorganize their staff, and part of that change was the creation of new roles and titles to reflect the current reality.  

Traditionally, CIOs and CTOs oversaw the company’s IT infrastructure, and their work revolved around fixing and upgrading hardware and software. Now, they are increasingly being expected to chart paths for the growth, expansion, and transformation of the companies they lead. In the past, they may have had a seat on the decision-making table, but they simply listened for instructions to execute. Today, they need to be business savvy.

There is so much data available today on internal processes, customer feedback, and industry trends. CIOs and CTOs need to take in that data and draw insights from it. They are business executives and need to view themselves that way. In a software development company, for instance, the CIO today has to have end-to-end visibility of the workflow, starting with the creation of ideas to their execution. When the company collects data on user experience, the CIO has to oversee the transformation of feedback data into actionable insights for the next iteration of the product.

As businesses continue to compete using technology, the role of CIOs and CTOs will grow even further. According to Mary Gendron, the CIO at Qualcomm, she has to ensure that the business has “the right capabilities for engineers to perform.” This requires a lot of thinking ahead on the part of the CEO and CFO, as well as planning and execution.

A classic example would be when a business needs to build new applications. Top executives have to help craft a budget, and a timeline and find the right software developers to work with. The CIO, today, should be able to explain the implications of the various directions it might take. While working with offshore developers may be cheaper, it may not be as easy to supervise the project. Nearshore developers give the assurance of timely project delivery. It’s also easy to verify the local companies that worked with them in the past.

Handling emerging issues

It’s also important to consider emerging issues that businesses are experiencing with . Regulations on data privacy are a fast-evolving area. Businesses need to be aware of the current laws in the various jurisdictions in which they operate. CTOs and CIOs have a role to explain how the business should align itself and navigate regulatory hurdles.

They also need to help businesses deal with cybersecurity challenges and  of the risk that comes with such challenges. For a major organization, this is a huge role involving the securing of payment systems, websites, internal networks, client data, and other confidential information. As these challenges increase and evolve, CIOs and CTOs need to ensure the business has the right capacity to handle them.

Businesses today must realize the changing role of technology in their operations. They then need to consider whether their technology leaders have the proper mandate, team, and authority to perform optimally. Given the focal role of technology today, it’s only right to allow current and future CIOs and CTOs to play a central role in strategy-building.

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