CIO or CTO? Does it Matter?

What’s the difference between a CTO and a CIO?

“Good question,” admits ZDNet. Where once the Chief Information Officer was universally acknowledged as the most senior IT executive, now, says the tech site, it “depends very much on the type of business you’re talking about.”

Where a business has only a CIO or a Chief Technical Officer, it’s an easy call – that’s the top IT executive. The duties and responsibilities are clear. Where the situation gets murky is when an organization has both.

Explains ZDNet, “The traditional split is that the CTO is responsible for the operational concerns associated with technology implementation. CTOs drill down into the details of technology. They have a strong systems focus and they know how technology works, making it more of a chief architect role.

“CIOs, on the other hand, tend to focus more on engaging with the business. So while the CTO might go and speak with vendors to source technology, the CIO makes sure the internal business gets the secure and governable systems and services it wants.”

Everyone got that? No? How about this from InsiderPro:

“CTOs are similar to CIOs. But they are responsible for the overarching technology strategy and infrastructure to help meet the organization’s goals, while CIOs oversee the IT departments and staff to manage everyday operations and in many cases work with business leaders on aligning IT with business goals.”

Where both roles exist, InsiderPro says “the CTO usually reports directly to the CIO.”

But wait. Pointing out that “As the importance of technology within the business has risen, so has the demand for knowledgeable technologists,” ZDNet says, “Some businesses – including established enterprises – have opted to rely more on a CTO than a CIO.”

Dig a little further and you’ll find that the hierarchical distinction is becoming less important as the bigger businesses move ever further along the path to digital transformation. Bornfight, a project-focused development firm, has a different take on the relationship between chief technology and chief information officers. It defines the jobs this way:

  • “Chief Information Officers are members of the executive team who are responsible for ensuring that a company leverages technology in a way that helps it optimize, improve and streamline internal processes.”
  • “Chief Technology Officers are members of the executive team who are responsible for ensuring that a company’s product utilizes technology in a way that will meet the customers’ needs.”
  • The company included this handy chart comparing the roles.CTO vs. CIO - blog.jpg

Bornfight’s most significant contribution to the discussion may well be that in organizations large enough to need both, CIOs and CTOs are complementary to each other.

“From a business perspective, you need these two positions and you need them to fit well together and cooperate — this leads to progress. The right way to approach this is to look at these positions as two sides of the same technology coin, a sort of a buddy-buddy relationship.”   

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

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