The Difference between CIO and a CTO

Our firm offers our clients innovation, experience, and knowledge of how to run and grow organizations on the Internet. In short, we are a team’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) or a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) depending on their needs. What is the difference? Why even need different offices for Information and Technology?  The technical and business skills, knowledge, and experience in these roles are different, but complementary. While one creates technology to sell to customers, the other focuses on managing infrastructure for the business operations.

Depending on the industry, or organization, these offices consist of different responsibilities. The CIO is generally responsible for the management of the Information and Technology infrastructure that runs the organization. The CTO is responsible for the development of new technologies or breakthroughs to help grow the business. An article from Oracle’s ProfIT magazine explains the distinction between the two roles in larger organizations.

TechRepublic‘s breakdown of the responsibilities of each office offers a quick breakdown :

Chief Information Officer

  • Serves as the company’s top technology infrastructure manager
  • Runs the organization’s internal IT operations
  • Works to streamline business processes with technology
  • Focuses on internal customers (users and business units)
  • Collaborates and manages vendors that supply infrastructure solutions
  • Aligns the company’s IT infrastructure with business priorities
  • Developers strategies to increase the company’s bottom line (profitability)
  • Has to be a skilled and organized manager to be successful

Chief Technology Officer

  • Serves as the company’s top technology architect
  • Runs the organization’s engineering group
  • Uses technology to enhance the company’s product offerings
  • Focuses on external customers (buyers)
  • Collaborates and manages vendors that supply solutions to enhance the company’s product(s)
  • Aligns the company’s product architecture with business priorities
  • Develops strategies to increase the company’s top line (revenue)
  • Has to be a creative and innovative technologist to be successful

If you are interested in either role, you may also want to read TechRepublic’s article on what a CIO or CTO’s resume should look like.  Joshua Millsapps of MB&A expands his thoughts on the subject on his company’s blog.

I’ve presented some resources as well as my thoughts on the difference between two C-Suite roles. So what? If you are a new company or team leader and are considering hiring a technologist, which one do you hire? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your team need to solve a problem by building new technology?
  • Does your team need to take a repeatable process and improve upon it with technology?
  • Does your team need to cater to people within an organization with existing processes?
  • Does your team need to cater to customers or buyers?

It may be that the person you hire is capable of all of these tasks and more. When interviewing them, ask them if they know the difference between a CIO and a CTO. If they can’t tell you, that may not necessarily disqualify them as a CTO.

As a firm we decided to build our company with practice areas that were complementary. It helps us handle more situations for our clients and for ourselves. While one team can work on the bleeding edge of technology, the other team works to figure out how to run the existing technology better. Technology itself can’t solve all the problems. Good management of People, Processes, Information, and Systems is the best way to sustain an organization.

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