CIOs Uncensored: Chief Of The Year--CIO, CTO, Or Somebody Else?

We're looking for nominees for InformationWeek's Chief of the Year, at the same time some people question the relevance of the CIO position.

John Soat, Contributor

October 5, 2007

3 Min Read

Jim Hatch will hate me for this. It was one of those heated hallway discussions: What's the role of the CTO, and how is it different from that of the CIO? And who's at the top of the technology pecking order?

The hallway was in the Westin La Paloma in Tucson, Ariz., and the discussion was between two longtime technology managers--Jim Hatch being one of them. The scene was evening at the InformationWeek 500 conference, after the awards ceremony. Perhaps a few glasses of wine at dinner had oiled the opinion engines of the two conversants.

Longtime technology manager No. 1: The CTO is the technology arbiter. It's his or her job to have the most knowledge of, and experience with, business technology, and to use that knowledge and experience to determine technology strategy and standards. The CIO is a project manager, pure and simple.

Hatch's comment: That's bull$@%#! The best CIOs are both deep technology thinkers and shrewd business strategists. It's the CIO's job to vet the CTO's technology strategy to ensure it aligns with the company's business strategy. To be able to do that, the CIO must know more about IT than anybody else in the organization, as well as being one of its most vital and insightful business leaders.

That's a pretty high standard, I said to Jim. Can you come up with any examples?

Hatch pointed to two of the most brilliant CIOs working today: Randy Mott, CIO of Hewlett-Packard, and Rob Carter, CIO of FedEx. (Modest to a fault, Hatch might have pointed to himself; he's the former CIO of Pactiv, a $2.8 billion-a-year packaging manufacturer. [Full disclosure: He's also a member of InformationWeek's editorial advisory board, as are Carter and Mott.])

All right, Jim, I said--that's two. Any others?

Our hallway discussion was interrupted at that point, but the question remains: What makes a brilliant CIO? Tech savvy? Business smarts? Management skills? Charisma? All of the above?

At the same time, as technology becomes integral to business strategy and growth, some people question the ongoing relevance of the CIO position. To quote from a commenter at our CIOs Uncensored blog: "As business executives become more technology savvy, many organizations are asking, 'What do we need a CIO for?' ... CIOs are tuned in to the growth drivers of the business and driving business initiatives--that will never become irrelevant or absorbed into the CTO position. More important than being technologists, CIOs need to help drive the business imperatives through initiatives (which often aren't technology initiatives, but perhaps related to cultural change, process change, etc.)."

Our current Chief of the Year, Dan Drawbaugh, CIO of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, exemplifies that mix of brilliant business strategist and technology arbiter so vital to his organization's future growth. And it just so happens that InformationWeek is looking for its next Chief of the Year.

So, is the CIO position more or less relevant today? And do you know a brilliant tech exec you'd like to nominate for InformationWeek's Chief of the Year?

Share your thoughts at our blog, CIOs Uncensored, or contact me at [email protected] or 516-562-5326. And sorry, Jim--but you used the word.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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