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The CIO-CTO shuffle

In late October, The New York Times Co. pulled the trigger on a decision that reflects how digitization is disrupting more than business models: It named Nick Rockwell its new CTO.

That Rockwell was named to the role makes sense. For more than a decade now, he’s racked up a blend of digital technology and digital media experience as a CTO or a vice president at the likes of Conde Nast, TheLadders.com and MTV Networks. What stands out about the decision is this: Rockwell is the replacement for the former CIO, Marc Frons, who left the company in June. Digital transformation, in other words, is upending the corporate structure itself — and in more ways than introducing new roles to the C-suite.

“If you’re a CIO right now, and if you’re not adapting and evolving, you risk being marginalized. It’s tough,” said Shawn Banerji, managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm in New York.

It’s too early to call the CIO-CTO shuffle a trend, but it’s safe to say The New York Times isn’t alone in its decision. “As more and more companies, irrespective of their industries … are looking at data information assets and how they productize and monetize those assets, they need an individual, whether it’s the CIO or the CTO, that can do so,” Banerji said. “And many are opting for the CTO title, so we’re starting to see the emergence of that.”

Earlier in October, Starbucks announced that it was appointing Gerri Martin-Flickinger as its first-ever CTO, a replacement for former CIO Curt Garner. And last year, Brook Colangelo, who was originally hired as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s CIO, convinced the company to nix the CIO title in favor of CTO. “The killing of the IT title was a rebranding of who we are as an organization and how we’re delivering,” he said in an interview with SearchCIO a few months back.

Colangelo has retained his CIO responsibilities despite the title change. But by becoming a CTO, he has positioned himself as more of a front-office entity where he can serve Houghton Mifflin Harcourt customers directly, he said.

The CIOs in this story are examples of how digitization is disrupting the role of senior IT leader, but they are also examples of how CIOs are evolving with the times. Frons, for example, shed the CIO title — for now; he currently serves as senior vice president and global head of mobile platforms and deputy head of technology at News Corp, which publishes The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post. Garner, former CIO at Starbucks, is currently serving as Chipotle’s first CIO. And even Martin-Flickinger provides a CIO adaptation story: She’s performed the CIO-CTO shuffle, having served as the CIO at Adobe before joining Starbucks.