Friday, December 29, 2006

CTO is Not Equal to IT

I received an anonymous comment that InfoWorld is a good resource for CTO's and a publication that focuses on the CTO. I have subscribed to InfoWorld for several years and initially discovered it in my search for guidance on the CTO position. However, I quickly discovered that InfoWorld is focused primarily on IT products and services. Therefore, the CTO's that they serve are usually those whose product focus is IT.

But companies that provide IT and computers are just a small fraction of those that employ the CTO position. A CTO provides executive level focus on and contribution from technologies that contribute to a company's profitability. For example, a company that mines copper would have a CTO focused on mining engineering and chemical processes for extracting copper. That CTO may not spend any time or energy on the IT products and services that the mining company consumes.

Many IT companies, CTOs, and CIOs mistakenly assume that the CTO of all companies is concerned with IT and works in conjunction with the CIO and an IT staff. I often receive sales calls from sales reps who cannot imagine that my position is very interested in new types of lasers, electronic textiles, supercomputing, and computer graphics ... but has no interest in IT products.

I certainly respect the IT industry and even have a couple of projects that are looking to extract new and powerful ideas from that field to use in other fields.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas Humor

Merry Christmas for CTOnet and Calvin

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fantastic Four Path Through Innovation Lifecycle

Product and service innovation does not come in the same form at all stages of a product's life. Utterback and Abernathy presented a model in which innovation begins in the functionality of the product, then shifts to its user features and manufacture, then shifts to a cost competition - as shown in this graph.

As these shifts occur, a company may respond in a number of different ways. Four of these are fantastically popular.

  1. The Thing = Immovable. Stay the course, refuse to change, insist that the market will come back to you. This is the most likely path to oblivion.
  2. Human Torch = Specialize. Focus on being the very best at one specific part of the product or service chain. There is always room for the best.
  3. Mr. Fantastic = Flexible. Shift your focus to meet the new dynamics of the market. Transform the company or the product. Behave like a start-up.
  4. Invisible Girl = Hide. Find a crack in the market shimmy down into it and contract to fit the niche. Hope competitors do not come looking in that crack.

Utterback and the Fantastic Four are included in this conference presentation

Game Technology Disruption in the Rear View Mirror

The interactive simulation industry, particularly that serving the military, is being disrupted Clayton-Christensen-style right now. We have created a foundation of technologies that largely rely on government investment or defense-specific companies for their creation. While we have grown very well over the last 10 years, we have seen the game industry and the IT community coming up fast in our rear view mirror. Game graphics engines, network methods, persistent worlds, artificial intelligence, and physics modeling have grown so quickly that they are now at a quality level that they can perform many of the operations that were previously reserved for military contractors.

What does a defense company do when disrupted in this way? As I said in a recent conference presentation, there are 3 choices:

  1. Adopt the technologies and mix the best of the current tech with the best of the new game tech. There are a number of companies bringing the two together and there are companies emerging specifically to create and deliver game technologies to simulation customers.
  2. Move Up Market by selling the simulation technologies to more demanding customers. Rather than targeting the military, use high-power tech to go after weather, population, and cultural simulation. Of course, there is much less money available from those customers.
  3. Move Down Market by selling the old technologies to much smaller customers, shift to lower price and higher volume.

Game technologies are so close in the mirror that there is no doubt that they are in the simulation space and will grow there. IT service technologies like SOA are further back. But possibly headed in the same direction, right up the simulation tailpipe.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Google Earth CTO -- To Build or to Sell

A CTO often sees the job as injecting technology into a product or service to get a company launched or positioned in a market. Some technologists are so wrapped around the technology that they can only see a path for building to a company's future. But as a company moves forward, the CTO has to have bigger eyes than this. The person must be able to transition from being a genius to an executive (see "5 Patterns of the CTO" and "The CTO in Transition")

Michael Jones is the CTO of Google Earth and got to that position by building a small start-up called Keyhole. He helped them to create a great product, but as a small company they had trouble reaching customers and getting access to all of the geo data they needed to populate the world in their tool. The solution - sell the company to Google and use the brand name to achieve global recognition, and the money to buy access to all of the data you can imagine. Mary Jo Wagner brings this out in the following fragment of an interview with Jones:

"MW: As Keyhole already had the technology and product line, why couldn't it achieve what Google Earth has in record time?

MJ: I think what we built at Keyhole was good, but it was known by a smaller part of the world. And one thing small companies have a really tough time doing, and I know from experience, is reaching out to the world. To actually be able to reach everybody's brother is really hard. Google was attracted to what we were doing - Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] were personal customers - and wanted to find a way to make that available to more people. So when Google launched this service and offered the chance to check it out for free, the whole world noticed at once."
[From: Geospatial Solutions]

As a CTO can you see the world from the perspective of new technology + access to customers + brand recognition + financial support? This job has a "C" in the title for a good reason. It is much more than Chief Technologist/Scientist/Engineer.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Motorola CTO is Blogging Publicly

I just received a message from Wendy White, Motorola's Director of Global Technology Marketing and Communication, informing me that the Blog of their CTO, Ms. Padmasree Warrior, is now posted publicly. At its grand opening the Blog has 7 postings stretching back to February.

Bits at the Edge: Padmasree Warrior

CTOs and technology leaders should take note of this. Ms. Warrior is one of the few CTOs who shows up in public fora side-by-side with the company CEO. Ed Zander has allowed, encouraged, or not-discouraged Warrior from becoming a noted public face of Motorola. In one news article the author even credited Ms. Warrior with coming up with the company tag line "seamless mobility" during a plane ride with Zander.

Motorola could be one of the first big companies to tap its CTO for a top leadership position like President or CEO.

I'll be reading the Blog.

CTOs Digging in the Dumpster

Imagine your CTO in his best suit rummaging around in the dumpster behind the facility. He is looking for new product ideas among the rubbish of the past. At Big Pharma they have a number of "failed" drugs on the shelf - million dollar investments that did nto payoff as hoped. So they are sending their scientists into these piles of IP rubbish with new biotech tools. Their mission is to figure out whether any of those drugs are good for something else -- something profitable.

What a great idea. Every company has products and IP that they are not turning into profits. When new technology comes along you can use it to try to create yet more products, or you can use it to reevaluate your old products. The latter is much cheaper. Time to go dumpster diving.

Fortune: Technology in the Trash Bin

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Best Buy's Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

"Best Buy is recognizing that sitting in a chair is no longer working." [from Business Week, Dec 11, 2006]

Best Buy has experienced a worker revolution. From within the ranks of the hard-charging company, the employees created a work-from-wherever-you-like practice called "Results-Only Work Environment" or ROWE. It grew silently for 2 years before the company's CEO even knew it was happening.

Flexible work hours are not new. But a silent revolution to implement such a practice gets my attention. Something like that had to come from people who were overworked - BUT who also loved their jobs enough to turn rebel in order to find a livable way to stay at the job.

Critics ask, "But what happens when sales go bad or people's productivity declines? Is this sustainable?" The obvious 21st century answer is -- Haven't you noticed that change is the new standard. Nothing remains the same for very long in this century. Policies and practices change to meet the needs of the current environment. When that environment changes, the practice will change again to match it. The days of business practices that are static for decades (long enough to publish in policy manuals, distribute to all locations, and inculcate into all employees) are gone. We are now being guided by principles and missions. Practices change every day.

Magazines for a CTO

As a CTO, which magazines do I read and get the most good out of? Identifying #1 is easy - Business Week. Almost every issue contains something that I can quote in a blog, circle for future reference, tear out a page to show a friend, or pass the entire issue along. Though I am lothe to save old issues of any periodical because I can always look it up again online, there are a dozen old issues of BW under my desk just in case I want to get to them again. I also find single pages of the magazine stuffed into project folders relating to the articles. Also, the magazine always arrives on Friday and I try to finish reading it before Monday so I can move on an idea before other people.

Where does the list go from there?

  1. Business Week
  2. Fortune
  3. Business 2.0
  4. Forbes
  5. Money
  6. Inc.
  7. Academy of Management Review
  8. CIO
  9. CFO

From there the list branches into titles that I am reading in specific industries to understand new trends.

Jay Allard on Creating the Future

"The only way to change the world is to imagine it different that the way it is today. Apply too much of the wisdom and knowledge that got us here, and you end up right where you started. Take a fresh look from a new perspective, and get a new result." -- Jay Allard, Microsoft Entertainment Division [from Business Week, Dec 4, 2006]

Sunday, December 03, 2006

5 Patterns of the CTO

Research into company practices indicates that there are 5 different patterns of the CTO position.

I have been contacted a number of times by people trying to understand what it means to be a CTO at their company. The role that they are trying to define always seems to be different from the material they find on the web or in the bookstore on the CTO position. Welcome to the confusion! We all experience this when we come into the position. There is no real single defined responsibilities for the CTO. But at least 5 unique patterns are emerging.

  • Genius. This is often one of the founders of the company who is a wizard at the core technology that launched their product or service.

  • Director. For bigger companies, the CTO is not usually a "doer", but a director of what needs to be done. He/she may be very technical, but spends their time managing product development or research labs.

  • Executive. In large companies the CTO may be a member of the executive staff and spend their time on strategic directions for the company. The focus is not on creating technologies, but on creating strategy.

  • Advocate. This person is focused on the experience of the customer with the product or service. This is a hands-on, in the trenches person.

  • Administrator. This person is interested in scheduling the efficient deployment of the product and looking for the best licensing deals for vendor products.

  • Void. Many companies have a CTO void. This is when no one holds the title AND no other title is handling the strategic future of technology in the company's products. Given the current state of the world, this is a dangerous place to be, even if your company just makes T-shirts.

For a complete description of the 5 patterns: "5 Patterns of the CTO"