Technology leadership plays a pivotal role in driving organizations forward by strategically planning, implementing, and managing technology resources. It encompasses using technical knowledge, tools, systems, and processes to foster innovation, achieve organizational goals, and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Technology leaders, often part of the executive team supporting the CEO, oversee the investment in and utilization of technology. This article aims to explore the:
- Concept of Technology Leadership,
- Technology Consumer and Technology Creator organization types,
- Technology Leadership roles appropriate for each type of organization, and
- Key roles that comprise technology leadership, including the Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).
What is Technology Leadership?
Technology, in the context of technology leadership, refers to the use of technical knowledge, tools, systems, and processes to create, develop, and manage innovative solutions that drive an organization or industry forward. Technology Leadership is an executive role that encompasses the strategic planning, implementation, and management of technology resources (both human and financial) to achieve organizational goals, foster innovation, and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Technology Leadership, then, is a subcategory of executive leadership that is primarily concerned with an organization's investment in and use of technology to further an organization’s goals. Whether that organization primarily buys and implements technology for its own use or is a technology company that primarily creates technology products and services for other organizations to use, both usually have technology leaders overseeing these functions. Often confused with executive leadership of a technology company (e.g., the CEO of a software company), technology leadership in this context is most often part of the leadership team that supports the CEO and is a peer to other functional leaders (CFO, CMO, CHRO, GC, etc.).
The definition of technology leadership is further narrowed to those leaders who are responsible for leading technology and report organizationally to a non-technology leader (most often the CEO or Division President, etc., but can be a functional leader such as the CFO in smaller companies). This would generally exclude direct reports of a technology leader unless the role achieves such significance that it often has alternative (e.g., “dotted line”) reporting to a non-technology leader, as is the case for the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) who often has dual reporting relationships to a CIO/CTO and Legal, Internal Audit, or the Board of Directors. Also excluded would be consulting professionals whose clients are technology leaders and their organizations but themselves do not have authority and responsibility over the human and financial technology resources of those organizations.
What Types of Organizations Engage Technology Leadership?
Technology use in organizations has become so ubiquitous that all types of organizations in all industries use technology leadership to effect the “strategic planning, implementation, and management of technology resources (both human and financial) to achieve organizational goals, foster innovation, and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.” However, to achieve the goal of better understanding technology leadership, all organizations using Technology Leadership can be assigned to one of two broad categories:
- Technology Consumer - Those organizations that primarily consume technology to produce their revenue, and
- Technology Creator - Those organizations that primarily create technology to produce their revenue
Technology Consumers are heavily dependent on Technology Creators for innovation and transformation - spending the bulk of $4 trillion annually to compensate Technology Creators for all manner of technology products and services (datacenter, software, devices, services, communications). This is not to say that Technology Consumers don’t, at times, create technology or that Technology Creators don’t make use of technology created by others. But, as the categories suggest, the key differentiator is whether the primary source of revenue (e.g., greater than 50%) is derived from selling technology to other organizations or derived from selling other products and services (banking, auto, construction, etc.) that benefit from consuming technology created by others.
Defining the two broad categories of organizations that engage technology leadership is useful in understanding the roles that comprise technology leadership.
“All organizations using Technology Leadership can be assigned to one of two broad categories: Technology Consumer or Technology Creator” - Burke Autrey, CEO, Fortium Partners
What Roles Comprise Technology Leadership?
There are three primary technology leadership roles - two that are distinguished by whether they serve a Technology Consumer or Technology Creator organization and one that serves both categories of organizations equally. Fortium Partners generally refers to the technology leader in a Technology Consumer organization as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the technology leader in a Technology Creator organization as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). The third technology leadership role is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), which serves both Technology Consumers and Technology Creators. As mentioned above, the CISO role has achieved significance as a role separate from the CIO and CTO because of the cybersecurity threats facing organizations, the CISO’s skills in addressing those threats, the dotted-line reporting responsibilities beyond the CIO or CTO, regulatory/compliance obligations, and even personal legal ramifications.
A brief summary of each role and its relevance to Technology Consumers and Technology Creators follows:
The Chief Information Officer (CIO)
The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is an organization's most senior technology executive who reports to a non-technology executive - usually in a Technology Consumer organization. A CIO usually reports to the CEO but may also report to the CFO, COO, or another executive. The CIO is responsible for creating and implementing a technology strategy, executing it with people and investment, and aligning it with the CEO's and organization's vision and goals. The CIO is a strategic advisor, a thought leader, and a trusted confidante who is ultimately responsible for the entire organization's technology.
The CIO role was first articulated and used in 1981 by William Synnott and William Gruber in their book Information Resource Management: Opportunities and Strategies for the 1980s. Initially a very technical role, the CIO’s responsibilities became increasingly strategic as technology played a larger role in an organization’s efficiency and competitiveness. Though loose definitions impede attempts to provide accurate statistics, it is believed that over ⅔ of all technology, leaders are CIOs. Technology spend managed by CIOs is believed to be more than $4T worldwide, representing a massive investment in technology products and services and a lucrative opportunity to create technology products and services for the CIO.
The Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
The CTO is the most senior technology executive reporting to a non-technology executive in a Technology Creator organization that is laser-focused and purpose-built, top to bottom, to create great technology products for their Technology Consumer (in B2C, the Consumer; in B2B, usually the CIO). As Marc Andreessen famously predicted in a 2006 blog post entitled “Why Software is Eating the World”, the evolution of software has created a tidal wave of new, highly profitable, and valuable technology companies whose product development efforts are largely overseen by the CTO role.
Further, the creation and adoption of cloud-based computing platforms has enabled Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) - the most common business model for delivering software. As more of the technology spend from Technology Consumers is spent on Cloud (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and SaaS, the importance of the CTO as the primary leader responsible for product development and overseeing product operations has earned the role a distinction as one of 3 primary technology leadership roles. While there are similarities between the CIO and CTO, defining them as separate roles in the context of Technology Consumer and Technology Creator organizations is a significant contribution to understanding the role of technology leadership in organizations.
The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
The CISO is the senior technology leader responsible for the overall security and compliance posture of an organization. While reporting relationships vary depending on organization size and industry, the majority of CISOs report to the CIO in Technology Consumers or the CTO in Technology Creators and increasinly direct or dotted-line reporting to the CEO, Legal, and the Board or Board committees. This latter trend is in recognition that security and compliance is often a technical function but highlights the need to ensure that the CISO has the authority, support, and resources needed to effectively manage and mitigate information security risks.
Technology Leadership plays a critical role in organizations across industries, as technology has become an integral part of their operations and growth strategies. Technology Leadership is engaged by two broad types of organizations:
- Technology Consumers and
- Technology Creators.
Technology Consumers heavily rely on Technology Creators for innovative solutions, while Technology Creators primarily focus on developing and providing technology products and services.
The three key roles in technology leadership are the CIO, CTO, and CISO:
- The CIO serves as the senior technology executive in a Technology Consumer organization, responsible for strategic planning and implementation of technology.
- The CTO leads the technology initiatives in a Technology Creator organization, driving product development and operations.
- The CISO oversees the organization's security and compliance posture.
By understanding these roles and their relevance to different types of organizations, we can appreciate the significance of technology leadership in today's fast-paced and technology-driven business landscape.