What are the synergies and differences of the roles of a Chief Information Officer and a Chief Technology Officer? An open conversation about two roles with one mission…


A tale of two roles and one mission

TechRepublic‘s breakdown of the responsibilities of each Chief Officer role identifies the following:

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


Broadly defined, the CIO is responsible for ensuring that the company’s information technology investments are aligned with its strategic business objectives. To this end, the CIO has emerged as the key executive for information assets, operations, and policy. Moreover, in most businesses, the CIO is responsible for the oversight management of such office automation tasks as desktop architecture and support, network implementation, software development, and information management. In addition, most CIO responsibilities have expanded beyond the traditional role to include both strategic and tactical duties, as well as corporate policy direction.

Because the traditional CIO role has expanded away from the hands-on technical involvement and into the strategic business operations alignment arena, some companies are supporting the CIO effort by bringing in a CTO.

As the right hand of the CIO, the CTO is responsible for designing and recommending the appropriate technology solutions to support the policies and directives issued by the CIO. In so doing, the CIO is able to marry the recommended technologies to the strategic business objectives of the company. This approach establishes the CTO as the technology specialist.


CIO and CTO walk hand in hand in the same direction


From the real world

That’s the theory. What’s the reality, from CxOs out there in the field? I then decided to reach out on a few connections and ask about their experience. I’ll share a couple:


I think on a high level it rhymes well with my experiences from the field past the last decade. But, each organization is different and each organization sees those roles slightly differently in my experience. I’ve worked with countless organizations as a consultant, and sometimes it was the CTO and sometimes the CIO that were the key person for us to discuss with - in the end, the title serves as a guideline for the role, rather than a definition.

I also suppose today the lines are a bit more diffuse than just a few years ago. In the last few years where I’ve been helping customers with their tech, the roles of their CIO has been blurred out a bit and a lot of what was usually the CIO’s job then fell onto various other roles and parts of the organization.

I like the bullet point format here though, since it gives it a pretty high level understanding of expectations. But that’s about it I think. Using the role title as a guideline rather than a job definition is what I think is key for any organizational success.


I’m lucky in that I encountered quite a few CIOs and CTOs in my role, and I would say that the description from TechRepublic is pretty good.

I think the only one where there is potentially cross-over is that the CIO and CTO will often both be involved IT infrastructure decisions, especially around productivity solutions like Office 365 where it will affect the infrastructure and the way the business interfaces with technology.

And although I’ve worked with CTOs that have come from an engineering background, often, if the industry the client works in doesn’t rely directly on technology to produce their product, the CTO will be within the IT department and have a virtual team rather than run an engineering team.


CIO *and* CTO

I also see a lot of overlapping between the two roles, and I came up with the picture below of how I see the two roles contributing together to drive success in an organisation, driving in the same direction (common mission, obviously).

Time to say CIO *and* CTO rather than versus, isn’t it?



The CIO is more focussed on the business justification of projects and investments, they both agree on what to do (vision turning into strategy), and the CTO would make it happen by enabling the appropriate technology. Lastly, the CIO sits on the budget, the CTO is accountable for time & resources.

Open question: Would you see the CTO reporting to the CIO, or would both report to the CEO?




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