Officer class gains new member

What's in a name? When it comes to the increasingly prevalent chief technology officer (CTO) title, it probably tells you the bearer works for a technology start-up or a large company.

What’s in a name? When it comes to the increasingly prevalent chief technology officer (CTO) title, it probably tells you the bearer works for a technology start-up or a large company.

Juergen Brendel, of Albany-based start-up Esphion, suggests the distinction between CTOs and other IT executives is sometimes vague, but believes CTOs are more common in small companies like his that have technology as a product — in Esphion’s case, an anti-DDoS device.

“The CTO position made sense,” he says, as technical people founded the company.

Larger outfits such as banks and manufacturing companies, that have a lot of “pride” in their IT investments, may also employ a CTO, he says.

Out of the few IT executives who call themselves CTO in this country, Brendel, Tony Bullen of CRM firm Stayinfront and Jon Labrie of The Lord of the Rings SFX arm Weta might fit the first category. In the latter group might fall Telecom CTO Murray Milner and new Defence Force CTO Warwick Sullivan.

Telecom’s Milner had the handle of general manager developments in 2000. He was specifically appointed to the role of CTO but resisted the title for a while, he says. He suspects the term CTO will increase in popularity over time but the sceptic in him notes that such titles tend to be cyclic in nature. Though the two roles are sometimes combined, he says, the CIO usually has a more internal strategy focus, while he sees his role as delivering technology to customers and attempting to make money from IT.

Perhaps Milner was right to resist the title. Ex-CTO Pat O’Connell of Carter Holt Harvey HR software spin-off Mariner7 changed his title to general manager of products and technology to emphasise that the organisation delivered products and not just technology. O’Connell believes it’s “dangerous” to focus on technology rather than outcome.

Having said that, O’Connell jokes that a CTO would be “almost mandatory” for a start-up, especially those selling technology or IT services. CTOs, in his view, are heavily involved in IT product selection, integration and delivery, and back-end intellectual property. If they take on some CIO-type roles in a smaller company to which they are unsuited, information management may suffer, he says. But he also accepts the “macro” logic of a large organisation with a heavy IT investment wanting a CTO.

CHH doesn’t have a CTO, partly because it outsources its IT to Oxygen. One reason CHH doesn’t have the traditional CIO is that the title is already taken by the chief innovation officer. The CIO’s role is important, “though it [sometimes] comes down to managing the capex,” he jokes.

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