What is the difference between a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)?

By Brent Pearson

What is a CIO or a CTO and what is the difference between them?

The CIO is in charge of all the information technology (IT) in use by the company. He or she should be in charge of all business systems required by the business, the operation and maintenance of all technology operated by the company, as well as the management of all employees and vendors building and delivering IT.

The CTO on the other hand is in charge of the intellectual property (IP) technology that a company creates. This includes software and hardware engineering, the research and development associated with building technology as well as overseeing all of the engineering staff and those that support the staff.

Another way to look at it is how the role affects profitability. A CIO needs to be more concerned with the bottom line and focus on how to use technology to make the business more efficient, generate revenue with less cost, and how to effectively manage a budget across competing technology demands. The CTO is more concerned with building the technology and products that the business uses to generate revenue. This is of course a huge generalization. A CIO can’t be successful without looking at helping the business generate revenue and the CTO has to pay attention to the bottom line and the effects of technology on the business, but from a certain vantage point, it can be broken down into top line and bottom line.

Another controversial aspect of the CIO and CTO roles is which one, if either, can oversee the other. This is largely dependent upon how much technology is created by a company. In many cases, the technology development managed by the CTO can be one of the many technology systems that the CIO is in charge of. In this case the CTO could report into the CIO.

Does a company need both a CIO and a CTO or can one person provide both functions? Again, this is very dependent on the business. Almost all companies need technology of some sort to operate these days but not all companies are creating a technology product or solution. In that case, the CTO or a CIO role is fairly similar and regardless of the title, the role will pretty much be the same. In smaller technology companies, especially start ups where everyone is wearing multiple hats, it is very common for a single person to be handling both the CIO and CTO roles. In larger companies that are in the business of creating a technology solution, the CTO is a critical role. This person not have to be concerned with ERP systems, CRMs, email, desktop support, etc. That should be left to the CIO and the CIO should consider the CTO as a very high priority business customer.

While there are many different scenarios and individual business types, a simple way of describing the difference between a CIO and a CTO can be summarized as follows: The CIO is in charge of all technology used by a company to run a business while a CTO is in charge of building all the technology that a company is selling.

Jason Hiner wrote a nice bulleted list on Tech Republic of the functions provided by each role and provides some additional background reading on the subject as well.



About Brent Pearson

Based in Napa, CA, Brent Pearson is founder of Napa Logic an Information Technology (IT) firm specializing in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics.

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