This is a question we’re asked fairly often and there’s a big difference. The role of a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) is quite clearly definable, but a CIO (Chief Information Officer) has evolved from its roots a couple of decades ago and will be different in various industries and organisations.
A CTO is mainly responsible for the software and hardware that a manufacturer or technology company uses to make money. The CIO would, in such an organisation, be primarily responsible for the Information Technology the manufacturer uses to be productive so the CIO is responsible for saving the company money. This is a very basic description of the differences.
The role of the CIO has evolved far more than a CTO over the past several years and today more than ever, is likely to have a seat at the executive table, with the primary goal of ensuring that the right technologies are used to fulfill the corporate strategy and business plans. A CTO doesn’t usually sit at the executive level, or in the “C-Suite” as some might say.
No matter the industry today, technology will be involved, even if you’re making car parts or faucets. When it comes to car parts, for example, they’re increasingly embedding sensors in many parts. The CTO may be responsible for determining the sensor and writing the software, but the CIO will be responsible for managing all the data those sensors collect that get sent back to the company to be used to improve the product or even to better manage the supply chain and to integrate into the supply chain to the final auto manufacturer. The CIO will take on that responsibility.
In small to medium-sized businesses the CIO will ensure that s/he helps the company through a digital transformation, stay digitally competitive and become more digitally mature. This means Information Management, Information Technology strategy, productivity improvements, sales and marketing automation tools and so on.
Where a CTO will need to have a degree in computer sciences or software engineering for example, a CIO doesn’t necessarily need those certifications. The CIO is more business oriented and while they need to understand various information technologies, they don’t need to write code or do the work to keep a data warehouse running or provision IT roll-outs. That’s the work of a VP of IT or Director of IT.
A CIO needs to be able to translate between the C-Suite and the IT department and people and to help the company navigate through the complexities of our digital world.
Another area a CIO works in is with business intelligence and analytics to ensure the organisation is delivering the right information to the right people at the right time. The CIO should also understand data governance, privacy laws, disaster preparedness and cybersecurity.
So where the role of a CTO is fairly narrow, though no less important, the CIO is a more strategic role and needs to understand strategy and business across multiple dimensions of the company.