As IT professionals, we are not great at defining what we do and why we do it. In an attempt to show the importance of our work, we hide beneath a collection of buzz phrases and three letter acronyms.

Chief technology officer (CTO) could be seen as yet another layer of obfuscation. After all, according to online encyclopaedia Wikipedi, “there is currently no commonly-shared definition of a CTO’s responsibilities, apart from that of acting as the senior-most technologist in an organisation.”

So much for the definition, what of practice? Traditionally, CTOs oversee the technical staff that are involved in archietcture, design and development – but times, and role definitions, are changing.

Underneath the hyped up talk of agility, value and innovation, something real and tangible is happening. Businesses are finally waking up to the need to use and re-use technology resources in an open and integrated fashion.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) – with its focus on component re-use in new and interesting combinations – provides a way for the business to stay alert in this new era of business technology.

In short, systems, software and services are becoming more specialised. By its inherent nature, SOA demands an integration of resources through a series of layers, such as operational systems, component-based developments, composite services, business processes and, finally, through to the presentation layer.

And to roll with this revolution, businesses must realise that the management of architecture is no longer a simple role for a single individual. Instead of managing a group of general architects, the CTO’s technology team – working to an SOA framework – should become more and more specialised.

Firms should ensure they have architects that focus simply on integration, process, presentation, security and business intelligence. Such layered leaders should monitor standards, vendors and open source offerings, creating a roadmap for their specific area.

Leading-edge finance firms are already undertaking such a transition and new roles – such as chief process architect and chief presentation architect – are beginning to emerge.

Fail to take a similarly deep appreciation and you risk your firm being left behind. So, what does CTO really stand for? In the service-oriented age and for the architects that serve the business, ‘career transition occurring’ would seem an appropriate tag.