CIO, CDO and CTO: The 3 Faces of Executive IT

First there was the chief information officer, and then companies started adding chief data officers and chief technology officers. What strategic deliverables do companies expect from their IT leaders?

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

July 20, 2022

6 Min Read
three business executives talking in a hallway
Bill Cheyrou via Alamy Stock

When I was CIO at a banking institution, the board wanted to know about IT, even though no board members had technology backgrounds.

Nevertheless, the questions they asked were pertinent to the business. What do our customers want? How much are we spending on IT each year? What are our plans for moving forward with technology over the next five years? How do we compare technologically to our competitors? Is our data secure?

CIOs across industry sectors get asked these questions often, only now there are calls for CDOs and CTOs to report to the board and the CEO as well.

What’s Changed?

Digitalization and a new emphasis on data as an asset are two elements that have changed within companies.

“Enabling data as an asset requires a shift in both mindset and approach,” noted KPMG, in a report.

This focus on data and digitalization has prompted many companies to add the position to executive IT management because someone at a high level needs to be responsible for all the data that is being accumulated, ensuring that it is both secure and leveraged across the business.

To a lesser degree, companies are also hiring CTOs at board-interfacing executive positions.

The CTO is a technology innovator who is charged with identifying and introducing new technologies that will make companies and their products more competitive. CTOs are most often seen in technology startups, and in industries where products, services and operations demand cutting-edge technologies (e.g., financial services, life sciences, pharmaceutical companies, e-commerce, etc.).

Companies employing CDOs and CTOs also have CIOs. They expect the CIO to be the chief operator of their IT business, continuously engaged with and on the business side of the company. With the shift of the CIO into more of a business role (and how IT can help the business), there is less time for future technology research (the CTO) or for vetting data for use, security, and quality (the CDO).

What Companies Expect

It’s no longer enough for the CIO to brief the board on projects and IT status. Boards and CEOS want to know about how well the company is exploiting all the data it has paid to digitalize (the CDO). If the company is dependent on technology as a competitive differentiator, the board wants to know what future technology investments look like (the CTO).

Today, the data has great potential to turn tables in business. It can empower citizens, change how government works, and improve the delivery of public services. It may also generate significant economic value,” according to Phronesus Partners, an IT consultancy and research firm .

What CIOs Can Do

A CIO could feel threatened with the additions of a CDO and a CTO, especially if these positions are at the same executive level and report directly to the CEO. Ironically, however, the first person the CEO is likely to turn to for help is to the CIO.

The CIO is often asked to help develop CDO and CTO job descriptions, and to interview candidates. In all cases, the CIO remains at the heart of IT discussions, because every day IT is the heart that keeps the company running.

With this in mind, here are three things that CIOs can do to assist the company with its growing IT needs:

1. Form an active collaboration with the CDO and CTO

Most companies lack experience with the CDO and CTO positions. This makes these positions (and those filling them) vulnerable to failure or misunderstanding.

The CIO, who has supervised most of the responsibilities that the CDO and CTO are being assigned, can help allay fears, and benefit from the cooperation, too. This can be done by forging a collaborative working partnership with both the CDO and CTO, which will need IT’s help. By taking a pivotal and leading role in building these relationships, the CIO reinforces IT’s central role, and helps the company realize the benefits of executive visibility of the three faces of IT: data, new technology research, and developing and operating IT business operations.

2. Give the CDO and CTO their ‘due’ if they report to you

Many companies opt to place the CTO and CDO in IT, where they report to the CIO.

Sometimes this is done upfront. Other times, it is done when the CEO realizes that he/she doesn't have the time or expertise to manage three different IT functions..

This isn't a bad idea since the CIO already understands the challenges of leveraging data and researching new technologies. However, it only works if the CIO actively works with the CDO and the CTO in his/her organization so they can succeed together in performing their roles.

This means that the CIO might need to assign some of the day to day and project responsibilities he/she formerly managed directly to other senior managers in IT. This gives the CIO the bandwidth to manage day to day IT as well as CDO and CTO work.

It’s also a good idea for the CIO to periodically bring the CTO and the CDO to CEO-level and board meetings so the upper level of the company can be regularly briefed on CDO and CTO activities, and how they contribute to the business.

3. Drive strategy into operations

Part of the CTO’s work involves researching and eliminating “non-fit” technologies as well as advocating other technologies to become part of the IT roadmap and the evolution of the business. In the CDO’s corner, there will be “grunt” type projects like facilitating data quality and cleanliness, which are both precursor practices needed in the preparation of data for analytics and leveraging across the organization.

Much of this activity is behind the scenes, and of little interest to non-IT executives.

What the CIO can do as champion of business systems is to consciously link CTO and CDO initiatives to live project work and regularly communicate to business management and the board how new technology research and data preparation and leveraging are impacting project work and delivering business value.

Final Words

If your company has no plans to hire a CTO or a CDO, the work that these positions perform must be still done in IT.

Minimally, most CIOs will need to realign their workloads so that areas like data quality and leveraging the data, and new technology research and road mapping are as aggressively addressed as project management and the development and maintenance of systems.

What to Read Next:

The Ever-Expanding List of C-Level Technology Positions

CIOs: The New Corporate Rock Stars

The Restructuring CIO: Transforming How IT Works

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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