IT Operations

CIO vs. CTO: Who's in Charge of IT Management?

Where do you draw the line between a CIO and a CTO? How do they compliment each other?

August 9, 2021

Where do you draw the line between a CIO and a CTO? How do they complement each other?

What exactly is a CIO? How is that role different from that of a CTO? How do the two work together? Depending on size and structure, many organizations have a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in charge of corporate software and IT management. But the difference between their roles raises many people’s eyebrows.

What's the point of both?

Company IT asset management looks very different from five years ago. Office work is more flexible. CEOs have implemented bring your own device (BYOD) environments, software as a service (SaaS), and cloud-based servers.

IT managers are in charge of corporate information. As IT managers increase their storage and backup in cloud-based services, their focus is increasingly on computer data security.

What's the difference between the CIO and the CTO?

cio vs cto

It may not be obvious why there are different offices to lead information and technology.However, the differences between the two roles are fairly clear:

CIO Responsibilities:

While there are many intricacies to the CIO job description, one can consider the following three things defining features of the job:

  • A CIO acts as an internal technology strategist. The CIO needs to understand the company’s business needs and know about the technologies they use. Essentially, they are a business IT executive. They focus on managing business operations, running internal IT operations, and develop strategies to increase the company’s profitability.
  • A CIO is the internal mediator. CIOs are responsible for communicating their IT departments needs, goals, and processes to other department heads. They are the owner of all IT operations and are in charge of improving the efficiency of processes within their department.
  • A CIOs focus is on the bottom line. A CIO has to look at profitability and focus on how to increase profitability for either shareholders or owners. The Chief Information Officer is tasked with knowing how the company’s expenses can be lowered to grow total income.

CTO Responsibilities:

Similarly to the CIO position, the CTO position can be broadly defined by the following three traits:

  • A CTO acts as a tech engineer. Chief Technical Officers lead product development, planning technology, and hardware upgrades. They create technology to sell to customers, and they serve as “chief architects” for their technology infrastructure. They act as “chief software development officers”.
  • A CTO is the face of the company for outside relationships. They are the external-facing officers responsible for sharing the company’s IT news and creating relationships that can grow it’s network. The heads of technology are visionary, technical, and great at representing a company’s technology strategy. They have a knack for building collaborative relationships with vendors.
  • CTOs focus on the top line. A CTO’s focus is how to increase the top line of sales, or gross income. They look for new opportunities, new markets, and build out the proper plans to capitalize on those.

Does Your Company Need Both?

Because of the growing tech industry, most companies do need both a CTO and a CIO. As previously outlined, CTOs and CIOs both have full plates of responsibilities and are essential to most tech businesses.

However, some companies have found other alternatives -

Computer Weekly has another notion: a hybrid CIO. In some companies, the CIO acts as the CTO.

Other companies have split IT management between the person that oversees supply and the person that manages demand. A CTO will deliver technology, and the CIO will apply it in the company’s processes.

How you split the duties is up to you but, in general, it’s best to have both roles. You’ll also need to make sure they’re clearly outlined in your application process. But that’s a topic for another time.

Who’s in charge: the CIO or the CTO?

Today is the age of outsourcing and data first. So when it comes to IT management, who reports to the CIO, and who reports to the CTO?

Example: Let’s say your company needs data protection software for all your corporate devices. Where do you draw the line? Who’s in charge here?

Traditionally, the CTO reports to the CIO. But this depends on the company. Oleg Vishnepolsky, Global CTO at DailyMail Online and, explains how these two officers often don’t agree on who responds to whom.

What do CTOs think of the CIO?

The heads of information are typically thinking more strategically than operationally . They excel at planning and seeing the big picture… so they are better at negotiating with technology vendors and managing costs. But CIOs spend much time in meetings that have “little to do with technology.”

CIOs are a lot less technical than a CTO because they often come from a non-technical background.

The result? CTO’s claim CIOs are risk-averse and inward-focused. They would rather license technology like software as a service than build it themselves.

What do CIOs think of the CTO?

Heads of information say that their technology counterparts don’t plan or work their costs correctly.

Rather, “they like to play with technology that has little benefit to the business,” and run “vanity projects that have no value to the company.” They are more prone to risk and may not manage day-to-day operations as well.

In other words, there can be a lot of confusion and mixed signals.

CTOs say that CIOs should report to them.

CIOs claim CTOs must answer to them.

This can make for a difficult situation for a CEO. However, there are good steps to prevent conflict. There are some amazing books and thought leadership articles on this topic, but here is a quick rundown:

How to Ensure that CIOs and CTOs Work Well Together

  1. Make sure that both parties know their own responsibilities and what they do for the company right from the beginning
  2. Create collaborative opportunities between the two officers to generate respect and cooperation
  3. Make sure that both the CIO and the CTO feel they can be open and honest with each other to create the best outcome for the company as a whole

Summing Up

In today’s world, technology companies are popping up daily. That means more CIOs and CTOs will be essential in tomorrow’s business world. How do they differ? Which is more vital? The reality is: each position is very important. They should stay head-to-head to benefit the organization’s flow, and should be prepared to work together for the success of the company.

Understanding the difference between a CIO and a CTO is crucial to getting the most out of both positions. While the roles may seem similar or even identical to some, possessing a solid grasp on the subtleties and unique facets of each will position you and your company for success.

How do your company’s CTO and CIO work together?

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