Becoming a Competitive Weapon in the New Economy

No longer relegated
to back-office information systems tasks, CIOs and CTOs in large and small
organizations are now seen as primary players in achieving success for
new economy and traditional businesses alike. To assess the changing role
of these chief IT executives, CIN invited an industry analyst and executive
recruiting and business education experts to join a discussion with CIN
community members and staff on the topic of the emerging role of the CIO
and CTO.

The lively hour-long
discussion, recorded on December 8, 2000, reveals perspectives on the
personal, professional, and market forces that are at work defining and
shaping CIO and CTO roles in contemporary businesses. It also sheds light
on the expectations businesses place on chief IT executives today. One
of the surprising views expressed is the concept of the CIO/CTO as a competitive
weapon — having the power to make or break businesses while providing
a competitive advantage over rivals. And the options for chief IT executives
to advance or enhance their careers seem unlimited. As one guest participant
said, “you’re the weapon you choose to be.”

are highlights from the discussion:

and Control
CIOs are in a position to
test the boundaries of their roles based on the knowledge and skill they
possess in ways that IT executives of old were never allowed to. Today,
the chief IT executive is in a high-visibility role, serving the technology
needs of “customers” inside and outside the organization. So, technology
has become the ticket for entry to upper management.

Company types play a part in defining the roles
of chief IT executives, with performance expectations that are either
expansive or restrictive. Leading-edge companies tend to be willing to
take risks with technology and business strategies. Middle-of-the-road
adopters of technology tend to support proven, cost-effective IT initiatives
where the competitive advantage or market differentiation is clear. Trailing-edge
companies tend to adopt technologies and new economy business strategies

The role and expectations
for the IT executive are shaped by the aggressive, moderate, or defensive
attitudes companies have toward technology. The challenge for the CIO/CTO
in moderate to defensive-type companies is that technology is often seen
as a disruptive force rather than an “enabling force, a transforming force.”

Organizations that are highly accepting or adaptive
to new technologies expect chief IT executives to “know the business that
you’re in, the business that the company should be in, and also all the
market forces. They expect, basically, a CIO who’s a CEO, who understands
the opportunities that information technology and telecommunications can

Seat at the Table
For most companies, the role of the CIO/CTO
is one that is primarily responsible for what happens within the walls
of the organization. Even so, “the more progressive — and effective —
companies are empowering a CIO to be more of a seat at the table.” This
often translates into being a member of the company executive committee
and a direct report to the CEO or president of the company, rather than
the CFO or CAO.

The driving forces behind the elevation of the CIO/CTO role
can be either external or internal. One is fueled by the recognition that
a fundamental change in business demands a technology response; the other
is fueled by the recognition that technology can capitalize on a market

Finding CIOs and CTOs with the right mix of technical
depth and business knowledge is a challenge faced by companies large and
small. “The problem is there aren’t enough people in the marketplace that
have both,” so larger companies tend to err on the business side, while
smaller companies tend to err on the technology side.

Which type of chief
IT executive will be successful is often determined not only by the size
of the company, but by the size of the IT organization, too. CIOs and
CTOs need to be able to communicate technology issues in plain English
to the business staff, while gaining the respect of the IT staff with
their knowledge of “the limitations and opportunities of technology.”

Executive by any other Name
While there’s no standard use of
either CIO or CTO across companies and industries, a pattern is emerging
where the CIO titleholder is most often a strategic role player, while
the CTO titleholder drives the technical direction of a company. “When
technology understanding and actual experience becomes that important,
and business and information understanding and knowledge becomes that
important, you can probably reach a point where you can’t expect one person
— male or female — to be able to do that in a company of a certain size.”

There’s growing evidence that the CIO or CTO with the
right mix of business and technology background and experience is a “shadow
CEO — a CEO in training” either for the business they work for or one
they will work for. The CIO or CTO role is becoming a more accepted path
to the top spots in organizations because of a generational shift in the
leadership of companies.

Go to Becoming
a Competitive Weapon in the New Economy
for a complete transcript
of the round table discussion. CIN wishes to thank the following experts
and CIN members for participating: Alden Cushman, Vice President of Research
at Kennedy Information Research Group; Marc Lewis, Managing Director,
Technology & Venture Practice at Christian & Timbers; Jiten Patel, Senior
Vice President and Chief Information Officer of H&R Block Financial Advisors,
Inc.; Joe Puglisi, CIO of EMCOR; and Bill Schiano, President of thoughtbubble
productions and Assistant Professor at Bentley College.