Pros and cons of converging the roles of CIO and CTO

Pros and cons of converging the roles of CIO and CTO

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May 15, 2015
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Can one executive handle the roles of both CIO and CTO? Yes, says Justin Lundy, who is co-founder, CTO and CIO of cloud security company Evident.io. But it can be a challenge. In an interview with The Enterprisers Project, he explains how he makes it work.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): What are the biggest challenges of being both CIO and CTO?

Lundy: In many cases the CIO is focused on corporate IT, risk, and compliance, and the CTO is focused on consumer-facing technology and product development. The biggest challenge of being both CIO and CTO is managing the complete end-to-end customer experience, which encompasses both the internal facing and external facing aspects of innovating, building and operating a technology driven businesses. The impact is visible near instantly in your business metrics in many cases.

TEP: How do you find that balance?

Lundy: Balancing the roles is just a matter of keeping the calendar full and splitting between internal and external focus areas. By speaking with all the players involved with a business it is eye opening how much optimization is possible.

TEP: Do you wind up depending on others more than you would if you had just one of these roles?

Lundy: Operating in this converged role relies on regular and frequent communication with sales, marketing, engineering teams, partners, advisers, and customers to ensure that decisions are being made based on the most accurate and current data available. I don't think a converged role necessarily means that the person will need to rely on others or outsourcing more than if the roles were separate. That is dependent on your business needs.

TEP: What are some of the benefits of being both CIO and CTO?

Lundy: The greatest benefit we've seen is being able to operate in an agile manner. We operate in a very rapid continuous development environment, which enables us to demonstrate new capabilities to customers every week versus more traditional six or twelve month product development life cycles. It was an important decision to make sure the business operates this way, as it's one of the core capabilities that enable us to scale and innovate faster than the competition.

TEP: Does being a combined CIO and CTO make you more effective when communicating with customers?

Lundy: I would say the answer to this is yes. It's important to make the point that in some cases having separate CIO and CTOs can make perfect sense. Businesses can operate successfully with dual roles. That said, the combined role makes me more effective when communicating with customers and enables our company to improve customer satisfaction and customer retention continuously.

TEP: What skills do CTOs need to develop if they want to be effective CIOs?

Lundy: Be able to see the 50,000-foot view and manage all aspects of the business, technical or otherwise. Cyber-security threats continue to evolve and risk management practices have not quite kept up with the pace of innovation of cyber attacks. In our case, having one role tasked with building products and services and managing the teams responsible for defending the entire castle inside and out leads to stronger defenses.

TEP: What skills do CIOs need to develop if they want to be effective CTOs?

Lundy: The skill of being able to speak at length with hundreds of people--in both business and technical terms. I spend the majority of my time talking with people across the spectrum and the remainder working with our team and partners to make smart business decisions so we can innovate rapidly and build the best products and services possible.

TEP: Are there situations where the combined role doesn't work? For instance, if Evident.io grows to a certain size, will you have to divide the roles?

Lundy: These roles might stay converged indefinitely, and we will bring in other supporting executives to grow our existing team. I would say this is dependent on how quickly we grow to hundreds of employees, and on which market verticals we continue to experience the most growth in. In my opinion I do not see these roles separating for the foreseeable future but that could change over time, clearly.

TEP: Are there pitfalls a combined CIO/CTO needs to watch out for?

Lundy: There is a balance to achieve between internal and external facing focus areas. Spend too much time on one or the other and the customer experience and pace of innovation and growth will suffer.

TEP: What advice would you give to tech executives looking to take on this dual role?

Lundy: Talk with other CXOs, your teams, partners and advisors regularly to learn what works and doesn't work for them because every individual and every company is different. Learn from mistakes others have made so you will not repeat them. Convergence can be a wonderful thing when done right.

Justin Lundy serves as Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer, and is one of the Founding board members of Evident.Io, Inc. He holds a diverse 15-year background in Information Security.

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Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for Inc.com. She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington. Find her at www.mindazetlin.com.  

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