There is as much debate about the role of a good CTO as there is about the role of the enterprise architect. And yet, these roles are almost always aligned and very often the EA function reports into the CTO office. In an article in 2013, Avoiding A CTO Meltdown: Part 1 – Defining The Role, Dan Woods discussed essential skills and capabilities for the CTO which I find to be consistent with the skills and capabilities needed by the architect, especially the enterprise architect. Specifically, the CTO must be strategic for the company as a whole yet must also have their finger on the pulse of delivery. This has always struck me as unreasonable for a single human being, somewhat like blaming a CEO for a single bad customer service interaction when the overall customer service rating is positive or even stellar. But what if customer service is not good? And who exactly IS the customer of the CTO?
I would argue that like all CxOs the CTOs customer is not the CEO or the CIO but the OWNER. In public companies, that is the stockholder. In private companies, the individual owners. In government, the citizen. Depending on the personalities and reporting structure it may FEEL like your customer is the CEO or the COO or the CMO, but in fact these roles are meant to work together to implement the growth, profitability, or other success criteria of the owner. For most of us, that will be profitability and corporate growth leading to positive stock valuations, for many though it is a set of values or feeding children or other nonprofit mission. So what is the role of the CTO in that field. Generally it depends on two things; a) the role of the CIO (the reporting structure) and b) the goals of the role itself in terms of business outcomes.
Starting to sound familiar? Many of you will have heard me describe the role of the architect and their primary customer, and will understand how this resonates with the traditional CTO. Often the CIO is focused on operations and hires a CTO to focus on externally strategic value creation through technology investment. This maps perfectly with the role of enterprise technology architect and is in fact the culmination of successful delivery of that role. Note: there is an important role in business architecture and ultimately enterprise architecture in business strategy itself which I am NOT addressing in this post.
Instead of continuing the round robin and confusion consider the CTO as the CTA and the architects of the organization as the technology strategy arm of the technology function (whether you call that IT or use an outsourced provider or another layout is another post). With this arrangement the CTO clearly becomes a service of the CIO office strengthening the CIOs strategic value to the C-suite and board of directors. In addition, your CTO/CTA will have a real ‘arm’ and set of resources by which they accomplish their mission. The group of architects will know exactly what their role is (to maximize business value creation) and can be measured accordingly. This creates a much more aggressive and successful architecture function and also creates a pathway for architects to join the C-suite.