CTO title slow to snare followers

Australia's IT industry is still undecided about the role of a CTO and where such a title fits within the organisation.

Local recruiters and IT organisations agree there are few chief technical officers in Australia but an increasing reliance on technology may lead to more senior titles being developed in coming years.

This is not surprising considering fewer than 10 per cent of major companies in the US have a CTO, according to executive recruitment firm John J Davis in New York.

The problem, said Davis, recruitment firm president, is defining the role: "Does the CTO report to the CIO, or vice versa? Or are they complementary positions? Is the CTO part of the IT organisation, or does the CTO have a supernumerary role that reports directly to the senior management team? We've seen everything."

CTOs in Australia were quick to point out to Computerworld that organisations which don't have a CTO usually have someone perform that role under another title, such as vice president, director of technology, or even sometimes chief architect or scientist.

Yet there was no consensus on a definition of the role, or who the CTO reports to within the organisation.

Iain McKimm, director of technology and strategy at Pacific Internet, said the ISP had wrestled with the role, but decided it didn't fit the strategy of the business.

"The definition of titles is an interesting one. Many so-called engineering managers like to call themselves CTOs and I have been approached to fill CTO roles that are really operations managers," McKimm said.

"A lot of organisations are creating a technical manager role and trying to make it sound more important by calling it CTO," McKimm said.

CTOs need to be strategic decision makers and to report directly to the CEO "otherwise they are just a technical manager", he said.

An applications architect from a government department, who requested anonymity, said CIOs are becoming reliant on a chief technical architect as a senior adviser.

He described the role as one of "a technologist that has intimate knowledge of the business system implementations and a complete knowledge of application and business integration".

Martin Wells, CTO at Dot Communications, said a CTO is a more expansive version of the CIO role and he sees the demand for CTOs set to grow as management comes to rely upon technical infrastructure within their organisations.

"The CTO represents a primary bridge of technical systems to management, a key role that is too commonly lacking in companies. Its growth will be similar to the sister role of CIO," Wells said.

"My interpretation of the terms are that the CTO manages all aspects of technical infrastructure -- including communications systems, hardware infrastructure, engineering -- not just information systems. The CIO role is much more orientated to information processing, especially administration."

Bob Olivier, director of Olivier e-cruitment Advisors, said there was no demand for CTOs locally while demand for CIOs is still weak.

"Australian organisations see the role of CTO as the same as the CIO," Olivier said.

In the current market, the CTO will report to the CIO, according to Olivier.

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