Emerging Tech investigate

Sanity check: What's the difference between CIO and CTO?

The CIO and CTO job roles are frequently confused, but there are clear distinctions between the two positions in most large enterprises. The two require different skill sets and are focused on different goals.

The CIO and CTO job roles are frequently confused, but there are clear distinctions between the two positions in most large enterprises. The two require different skill sets and are focused on different goals.

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When you start talking about IT leadership roles and IT career tracks, the question that almost always comes up is "What's the difference between the CIO and CTO positions?"

Here's a quick breakdown of the distinguishing characteristics of those two roles.

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

Further reading

Does this list of characteristics ring true? What would you change? Take our CIO/CTO poll and join the discussion.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

44 comments
sudhirkamath
sudhirkamath

I thought the opposite.. The CTO owns those functions which are listed for CIO. The architecture and internal applications are led by the CIO?

davy_hermanus
davy_hermanus

Information more than just technology. CIO manages people and technology to make profit for company. CTO uses tehnology architecture to support company in view of Efficiency and effectivity business.

Ali Daher
Ali Daher

Theoretically it all sounds good but practically in many cases there is no real difference and the 2 positions can be used interchangeably in the real world. Most CIO's or CTO's are responsible for both the bottom line and the top line considerations. Each is responsible on ROI and TCO considerations for any capital expenditure decision. Each is responsible for aligning IT with business objectives etc. The difference may be more defined in ICT companies offering ICT services. However in most other industries, the line of difference is very blurred and it is quite common to use the titles interchageably. As more and more companies outsource their ICT services, then perhaps the role of the CIO will take precedence.. other companies may be looking at developing their own IT department into a service center and making it a full fledged profit center providing services to not only it's own business units but to business units outside the companies perimeter... in this case the role of the CTO may be more fitting??? Either way the roles and responsibilities in practical application are the same and the names can be used interchangeably and are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

techsathya
techsathya

No difference. Both Work for Business. More income, well defined processes, higher profitability. Both should be there for the sucess of the Business operations

tungstendiadem
tungstendiadem

I think I understand... I still would rather be a CIO, even though CTO sounds more exciting.

chas_2
chas_2

Check online salary surveys. My search found that CIO's are the bigger draw, netting about $100K more than the CTO's. Considering their titles sound similar, that's a HUGE difference! Maybe CTO's need to do more P/R to get better pay.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

Say what you like about theory, but in the real world, "CIO" and "CTO" are interchangeable terms.

No User
No User

In short each company is different and implements in it's own way. That said the intention of the CIO is the Top IT management position or more to the point executive management. The CTO position was created to ensure that business gets the most out of IT. The CTO position was designed to have a segment of IT direct it's focus on the needs of business operations and implement IT at it's optimum use for those needs. The CTO position is to make sure business gets the most out of IT and the CIO runs IT. There are three distinctly different areas of needs for IT in a given company, IT needs, Business needs and people needs. CIO's take care of the IT needs and CTO's take care of the business needs. The CIO is pure IT and the CTO is the implementation of IT that best takes care of operations and the business.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Two sides of the same thing. The development of two different titles for basically the same skill set is indicative of management bloat.

okn916
okn916

But what do the initials actually stand for?

sabiodun
sabiodun

Reading through the post i couln't make out what the difference(s) are. The point is that both requires (almost) the same skill set but applied differently based on Job Defition?

mnjenga
mnjenga

In a nutshell one could equate the CTO to a Business development manager/Director and CIO to an IT manager/Director......

mnjenga
mnjenga

In a nutshell one could equate the CTO to a Business development manager/Director and CIO to an IT manager/Director......

ahmed.hassan
ahmed.hassan

The characteristics defined for a CIO appear to be the ones that one would associate more with an Infrastructure Manager (more of an IT Administration function). I thought the CIO is a senior level position that is responsible for setting the strategic direction and goals of the IT department/group within an organization and aligning them with business goals and priorities.

developer
developer

Research and my experience shows that CIOs are in large corporate entities where salaries, of course, will be much more than in smaller companies. CTOs started popping up all over the place with startups during the dot com era. Of course, the salary will be considerably less when you are given a huge packet of stock options while crossing your fingers and hoping that the company becomes a roaring success! http://www.linkedin.com/in/faithsloan http://www.lexjansen.com/cgi-bin/xsl_transform.asp?x=ast&s=sugi_a&c=sugi#faitloan http://www.hotconference.com/members/faithsloan/onedollar.php http://faithsloan.mykioskhosting.com

rstepanek
rstepanek

Having been in both positions at some point in my career, the differences depend on the organization's focus. An organization that uses technology to conduct its business or provides its services, will likely subjugate the CTO to the CIO. An organization whose business is technology, will opt for the CTO as the senior position. Other organizations will avoid the title altogether, as Chief implies company officer and the charter will disallow. Does it really matter, if the tasks listed still have to be done, regardless of who is responsible?

PATOPP
PATOPP

They main difference is the customer. One serves internal customers or the enterprise and the other serves external customers(outside consumers) or a production environment. Each has slightly different goals which may contradict each other if both were combined. A good example would be Google. Google has their own internal email and software apps AND they have what most people see (consumers) like their search data bases and servers. Each area is addressed by different officers.

Stan.Williams
Stan.Williams

Very few companies have a need for both. The two job titles overlap to the point they almost need to share a brain. I couldn't agree with Zinj more - management bloat. Before you know it we'll have Chief Architect Officer, Chief Global-Infrastructure Officer, Chief of Business User Technology, or "C-BUT", my favorite. If the CIO has key people in place that are professional and trustworthy do we really need any more alphabet soup?

jradcliffe
jradcliffe

The Chief Technology Officer is primarily outward facing (external to the organization.....customers and vendors), concerned with the products the company develops and delivers. The Chief Information Officer runs the internal IT systems and people; customers are within the company. Of course, they must coordinate and interact regularly. J.Radcliffe, PMP

groux1
groux1

CIO = Chief Information Officer, CTO = Chief Technology Officer.

ac567
ac567

The difficulty is there is no agreed use of the definition of CTO vesus CIO. As far as I know ITIL, COMIT etc offer no definition. Many organizations have the CTO as a direct report of the CIO, responsible for technical architecture through to all aspects of infrastructure management. Others have the CTO as a partner to the CIO, managing supply-sided issues whilst the CIO manages demand-sided issues.

mikeholli
mikeholli

Jason, no offense BUT that's a stupid question. The title of both people say it all CIO = Chief Information Officer! CTO = Chief Technology Officer! Information and Technology use to be a hodge podge of blending all things Computer & Internet together. But that ended in the last days of Windows NT4 when it, as well as CPO were separated from each other and made into different opportunity s just after the late 1990s information highway crash. Come on Jason, you were doing reports about this on your P2 from your college dorm when all this took place.

mattohare
mattohare

Besides, in a world with the massive semantic shifts we have, That is, a world where the word acronym can be used in place of abbreviations. How do we talk about acronyms anymore? I doubt we?ll see much of a clear distinction between the two. The words in the definitions meant to contrast each other seem to have large overlaps. Maybe I needed to see some of those bullet points expanded a bit more.

logisticscanada
logisticscanada

I'm curious, do the readership of TechReplublic work for such large companies who have both CIO and CTO positions? If you do, please respond with an AYE AYE. In your opinion, what size company would warrant such a division in responsibilities?

gilmoremember
gilmoremember

There should be a big difference. The CIO should be responsible for strategic corporate conceptual acumen. Many companies don?t even know that they should be developing this so there are very very few CIO?s. The classical CIO may be virtually extinct. Not very many people understand technology-independent / strategic knowledge management.

techsathya
techsathya

I fully agree with you. CIO & CTO should co-exist for a successful implementation of any IT solution to an organisation

Matt Larson
Matt Larson

If we were doctors I'd be concurring with you. The priorities of each is plainly listed in their second letter: Information for one and Technology for the other. Arguments could be made that there is some overlap to be sure, but for the most part their offices are clearly defined.

jperick.mbei
jperick.mbei

Fundamentally different? Maybe no. Contextually different? Yes. The difference seems to be a two levels (or contexts). (1). One is focused on the Internal customers (CIO) while gthe other is focused on the external customers. (2). One is concerned with the revenu while the other is concerned with profitability However, one might wonder whether what business sense there is in trying to split revenu and profitabily. Can you have one without the other? Maybe, all this just depends of what structure each organization wants to have? is the difference based on the title, or what the holder actually does? Look at CISO and CSO. Do they differ? if so, how?

johnkinfw
johnkinfw

top line vs bottom line, outward focus vs inward focus, technology vs management These alone show there is quite a dichotomy between the skill sets. It is not only technical literature that needs to be carefully read and analyzed. People need to pay more attention to key words in descriptions.

leketee
leketee

If there were enough difference to warrant anything, I've often felt that a CTO would be someone that reports to the CIO anyway.

Lordan
Lordan

I previously worked for a company of around 700 that had a CIO, but not a CTO, at least not in title. Our CIO would spend most of his days in meetings(managers, vendors, etc. He did nothing from a technical perspective. He managed staff and the general direction of the IT dept. The next person on the totem pole served as the technical guru(CTO role). When a new solution was needed or a persisting problem was not able to be solved by the help desk/IT support team...it would get elevated to him. The CIO would meet with department heads to determine needs and then dream up possibilities...then talk to the guy serving the role of the CTO to see if it could be done and how. The CIO would then go back to management with the possibilities and let the board make the best decision from the information presented by the CIO. In a mid-sized business and up, this would be too much to ask of just a single CIO/CTO. In my opinion there should only be one "Chief", and it needs to be very clear who that person is, but both roles are often needed to be served by seperate individuals with a different skill set.

tungstendiadem
tungstendiadem

You can have revenue without profit. You can have revenue with loss. Revenue is income, profit is what remains of income after expenses are paid. R-E=P

jamurray
jamurray

The issue is not having either revenue or profitability without the other. Obviously any business needs both to be successful. However, you can increase profitability without increasing revenue by reducing costs. Also, you can increase revenue and not increase profitability if there is a corresponding increase in costs to generate the additional revenue.

Jeff Dickey
Jeff Dickey

in both the top and bottom lines. My strong view is that the failure by non-technical or less-than-broadly-experienced technical folk shares the most common root cause for technology project (and product) failure. Until "we" figure out what we're doing, why we're doing it that way and what the current and likely future alternatives are, IT will never deliver consistent business value.

jamurray
jamurray

I agree wholeheartedly with your response. There is quite a difference in the roles. I think confusion of the positions exists because few have really thought about what the differences are which has led many to think that there are no differences.

dls_cio
dls_cio

I do agree! The CIO control R&D spending, which a CTO will not.

tungstendiadem
tungstendiadem

It seems that it really depends on the organization. A CTO will often be on the COO's side of the organization chart using technology to facilitate and improve operations. A CIO on the other hand would be on the managerial and finance side of the organizational schema, overseeing technology operations beneficial to improved decision support and business information/intelligence management.

ibsteve2u
ibsteve2u

A CIO and CTO both share two primary characteristics: 1) They are the people who the CEO got along with the best whether on business flights, at dinner, or on the golf course 2) They are the people most likely to irrevocably commit the corporation to a massive technology purchase based on which vendor wined and dined them "the mostest and the bestest". Said technology will inevitably be marginally compatible (at best) or totally incompatible (more typically) with the technology currently in use. The CTO/CIO nonetheless will attempt to implement it with insufficient staffing and training and an "ambitious schedule", and will then disappear two weeks before the drop-dead date with an airy "Was fun, I'm moving on to other opportunities!" email to staff.