Nortel Networks.

November 11, 1996

Corner Office
Pssst! Here's one CTO's confession
By Jerrold M. Grochow

  My name is Jerry and I am a CTO. Until four years ago, I thought my life was under control, but then I accepted what has become the almost unbelievable challenge of creating the post of chief technology officer.

I was supposed to work with our line-of-business managers on strategic technology direction and with our clients on theirs. I was to anticipate where the technology was going for us and our diverse clients in banking, telecommunications, government and assorted other industries. I was to be at all times an expert on every company supplying the information technology industry, every product, every alliance and every possible interaction among them.

My daily "routine" as a consultant and project supervisor was replaced with an almost constant bombardment of information inputs and requests. The most difficult issue I faced was keeping up with the information flow.

Even with intelligent agents sifting through the barrage of new ideas, press releases and analysts' reports, it is difficult. I can no longer be a bits-and-bytes expert on COM, DOM, MOM, SOM and four different ATMs--I have to settle for having some idea of what they do and how they fit into the big picture. I can't be up-to-date on how many companies produce Internet firewalls, GUI development tools, Net management software and the like, but I can know what the key issues are. I can't know whether the beta release of XYZ works with Version 1.4 of ABC over a 100M-bps Ethernet for every possible combination of ABC and XYZ. I can know the results of software and hardware proofing in our labs, and I can carry around a copy of our gigabyte knowledge databases on my laptop everywhere I go.

Actually, I still consider myself an expert on quite a few technologies, but it does seem that I know less and less about more and more. I also consider myself an expert on risk management, since controlling risk is a large part of what I do.

In an IT company, the CTO's role is fundamental. Eric Schmidt has held that post at Sun for some time, and now Microsoft has appointed Nathan Myhrvold to that position. In some organizations, the CTO is the eyes and ears of the CIO for technology direction and issue resolution. In other organizations, the CTO is the chief strategist for use of new technology in the company's operations.

Whatever a CTO's relative position in the organization, he or she must remember why the post is there -- to ensure that the company is getting all the value it can from our incredible, wonderful, crazy, ever-changing information systems technology.

Jerrold M. Grochow is CTO at American Management Systems, an international consulting and systems development company. His latest book, "Information Overload: Creating Value with The New Information Systems Technology," was just published by Yourdon Press/Prentice Hall. He can be reached at

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