Many Titles, One Top Tech Leader

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Table of Contents1 Our 2022 CIO Next list shows that tech leaders’ responsibilities are growing fast—and their job titles are expanding along with them.1.0.1 BY MARTIN GILES1.1 Time to rebrand?1.1.1 MORE FROM THE 2022 FORBES CIO NEXT Our 2022 CIO Next list shows that tech leaders’ responsibilities are growing fast—and […]


Our 2022 CIO Next list shows that tech leaders’ responsibilities are growing fast—and their job titles are expanding along with them.

BY MARTIN GILES


E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—is a latin motto of the United States that’s inscribed on the country’s Great Seal. The phrase refers to America’s history as a nation of immigrants, but it also neatly encapsulates a shift in thinking in C-suites that’s going to affect many CIOs.

Most companies still want one mastermind to oversee their strategic use of technology, but they’re coming up with many new options for what to call them.

Welcome to the era of the E Pluribus Unum CIO, in which the executive formerly known by those three letters may now be called the chief digital and technology officer (CDTO), or the chief information technology officer (CITO), or the chief information and digital officer (CIDO), or the chief technology and operating officer (CTOO), or any number of other variations. Earlier this year, international bank Standard Chartered even decided to create a new role called the chief technology officer and transformation officer, or CTOTO.

When a buttoned-up bank begets an acronym that makes it sound like someone’s asking you to keep an eye on Dorothy’s dog from the Wizard of Oz, you could be forgiven for thinking this is all becoming just a little too ridiculous. But the drive to rename the CIO function is unlikely to be abandoned soon.

Executive recruiters report that pressure to expand tech leaders’ titles is arising from multiple directions. “Sometimes it’s coming from the client,” says Katie Graham Shannon of Heidrick & Struggles. “But it’s also coming from prospective candidates. They might say: ’I’m not taking a CIO job because it doesn’t speak to me about what you told me the job’s going to do.’ Or it could come from the recruiting partner who says to a client that if they want to attract someone great to this job, they need to signal to the market that it’s different.”

Time to rebrand?

The CIO brand has an image problem because it’s linked to an era in which the main role of the job’s occupant was to collect and distribute information. Today’s top tech leaders want to do much, much more than that.

Saikat Chaudhuri, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he runs a course for chief digital officers (CDOs), thinks the proliferation of job titles is also a reaction to past moves to create new roles such as chief technology officer to explore cutting-edge tech such as AI and augmented reality. When CDOs appeared on the scene as well and began tracking developments in exciting areas such as e-commerce, tensions between the new roles and that of the CIO grew.

This has left CEOs and boards wondering how to fix things. “I’m seeing the organizational design challenges all over the place,” says Martha Heller, who runs her own recruitment business focused on CIOs and other top IT executives.

One solution is to fuse some or all of the CIO, CTO and CDO roles back together with new, expanded job titles like CITO and CIDO. Another reason titles are expanding is that cutting-edge tech leaders are becoming co-creators of products and services, or are being tasked with driving innovation. Some of the titles of the honorees on our 2022 Forbes CIO Next list list reflect this trend. At wrestling giant WWE, chief product and technology officer Rajan Mehta is helping it maximize revenue from streaming media and other sources, while at Lithia & Driveway, a fast-growing U.S. auto retailer, George Hines, its chief innovation and technology officer, is leading some of its investments in other businesses.

Titles also lengthen when tech leaders are given broader roles inside a company, which is happening more and more often. Vipin Gupta, who was Toyota Financial Services’ CIO until January of this year, is now the auto lending giant’s chief innovation and digital officer, having been given responsibility for things such as corporate strategy and research in addition to his technology role.

At the end of the day, says Berkeley’s Chaudhuri, what matters most isn’t the titles that tech leaders have, but rather the person who they report to. If it’s not the CEO of their company or a very senior deputy, then their influence will inevitably be limited.

Naufal Khan of McKinsey plays down the title issue too. “It’s good to have a single, very capable technology leader at the end of the day,” he says. The best of these executives can go far no matter what’s on their business cards. “It’s very possible,” predicts Khan, “that over the coming ten years, [the] next big round of CEOs might be business-savvy tech leaders as well as tech-savvy business ones.”

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