The role of the chief technology officer has evolved from one narrowly focused on engineering into one with broader, more strategic responsibilities, according to the CTOs of two major IT companies.

CTOs once were limited to engineering and research responsibilities, highly focused on technical issues, without much influence on broader business strategies. That, however, has been changing progressively over the past 10 years, speakers said on Friday at Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

At Cisco, Padmasree Warrior's job includes travelling to many foreign countries to meet with clients and with government policy makers to understand their technology needs and concerns.

She also is tasked with identifying and analysing new technology trends, industry changes and market transitions, and communicating her findings and conclusions to other Cisco executives and managers.

"My role is more now about thinking broadly across solutions," she said.

She works closely as an adviser to Cisco's historically active M&A (mergers and acquisitions) group regarding what companies are truly innovating in areas that are important to Cisco.

Warrior shared the stage with fellow CTO Shane Robison, who told a similar story about his role at HP. "If I had to capture it in a word, I’d say 'strategy,'" Robison said.

He and his team of business-unit CTOs look out for major technology and business trends. "[We then] develop a context in which we can make business decisions about where to invest and where to place our bets going forward," he said.

This involves factoring in business, technology and market strategies, Robison added.

Then the business unit CTOs go back to their units and relay those conclusions to the unit managers, which use them as a primary factor in HP's decision-making process for plans in areas such as business, product development and marketing.

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