Oh my god, acronym hell…
Don’t despair, it’s not that bad.

You’re probably aware companies have IT departments…

Now you’re patronising me.
…well at the head of those departments is usually a CIO – a chief information officer.

But aren’t those people usually IT directors, IS directors or even plain old heads of IT?
You’re right. And those terms are all still valid. But in an age of CEOs, CFOs and even CMOs (that’s chief marketing officers) a CIO isn’t such a strange thing, albeit normally only at larger companies.

Why the change?
In some cases an IT director has simply had their job title changed to CIO. It’s largely just a tag and one influenced by common usage in the US. But in lots of cases a CIO is a global position with a number of IT directors reporting in to him or her. (And it is usually a him.)

So it’s more important?
Many experts, such as the big analyst houses, will draw important distinctions. While silicon.com and others have talked about IT directors as ideally board-level directors for some time, a CIO is naturally at the board-level. It’s the ultimate IT role and one at the core of most big companies.

OK, hold that thought for a minute. What of the CTO?
This simply stands for chief technology officer.

Who has one?
It is traditionally a position held at major technology companies. All the main software vendors have a CTO. They’re the ultimate guardian of the high-tech products and services, responsible for research and development (R&D). They can also be found at telcos. silicon.com columnist Peter Cochrane was famously the CTO at BT for a while. Hell, even CNET Networks, the publisher of silicon.com, has a CTO, given the medium we use.

I get all that. But why are they cropping up elsewhere? I noticed an interview not that long ago with the CTO of Barclays. Last time I looked they were a bank, not a software vendor.
Well remembered. But isn’t a bank a technology company in many ways today? It’s not just that they rely on IT in the back office. Their service delivery is all about tech. They are often at the forefront of initiatives such as web services as well as other standards. The CTO there works hand in hand with the CIO and not just on techie issues.

So how do you explain other companies with a CIO and CTO?
Fair enough – in some cases CTO is an in-between role, a kind of deputy CIO.

But usually more techie?
You’d hope so. The CTOs at most technology companies are inevitably uber-geeks. They have to be and that’s as it should be.

But CIOs aren’t always, are they – that’s what I wanted to get to earlier.
You’re right. CIOs – often in contrast to IT directors and those with similar monikers – are often non-technical. A column from another silicon.com contributor, rather provocatively entitled ‘The Death of the CIO’, points out how many CIOs these days are executives who have moved sideways into IT, often from marketing or other operational roles.

Is that a problem?
Yes and no. Rather like the influx of overseas football managers into the English Premiership, it can be seen as a good thing as they sometimes raise standards and add further dimensions compared to those who would have previously walked into those roles. Of course it’s a bad thing when IT is put entirely into the hands of those with no flair or passion for technology. Remember tech isn’t just about ops and cost-cutting – it must be about innovation and adding value, not to mention profits.

I fear you’re going to get on to that Nicholas Carr article again…
Fear not.

And besides the CIO and CTO…?
Sure, you commonly now get CSOs – chief security officers – and even CCOs – chief compliance officers. They’re a sign of the times.

For more on what CIOs and CTOs are thinking, log on regularly to silicon.com’s CIO Jury, where a question we ask is answered by12 of the UK’s pre-eminent IT bosses. Here is a recent one or see the links below.