The Difference Between a CIO and a CTO

November 19, 2019 0 Comments
cio and cto

CEO, CFO, CTO, CCO, CLO, COO, CMO… the list goes on. The number of acronyms we use to describe corporate positions can be overwhelming. Most people are familiar with the concept of a CEO and a CFO. But some of the others might not come as easily off the top of your head. In our last post, we looked at how the Director of IT and CIO roles differ. This time, we’ll examine the differences between a CIO (Chief Information Officer) and a CTO (Chief Technology Officer). These two positions are especially easy to confuse because the words  “information” and “technology” are often used interchangeably.

So, what’s the difference?

What’s a CIO Again?

As we described in the last post, the CIO is a leadership position and is responsible for offering guidance to the Director of IT as well as heading the entire IT department. The CIO works closely with the CEO of the company to help make decisions regarding the company’s technology systems.

This can include:

  • upgrading the existing system
  • keeping up to date with available technology
  • planning budgets
  • helping to make sound business decisions such as finding strategic technology partners.

The CIO’s focus is primarily internal. Their overarching objective is to ensure that the company is using technology in a way that best supports its internal functions and business operations.


How Is a CTO Different?

Where the CIO’s focus is internal, the CTO is focused externally. Instead of making internal business operations the center of focus, CTOs are interested in how the use of technology affects the consumer experience. This is true even if the products that the company is selling aren’t digital or necessarily technology-based. In other words, the CTO is responsible for making sure the production team and developers are using the right technology to offer customers the best product possible.

Naturally, this means the CTO often works very closely with research and development teams and engineers. Implementing the right technology drives innovation and allows the production of higher-quality goods or services. The CTO plays an important role in this process.


Basic CTO Position Description:

  • Improves the company’s external products through the use and review of technology
  • Manages development teams
  • Aligns the use of technology with business objectives
  • Maintains a thorough understanding of all the technology used by the company


What to Look for in a CTO

A well-qualified CTO can make miracles happen for your business. Minimally, they should have strong leadership skills and be sufficiently experienced in the IT world. Here are some things to consider when fulfilling the position.

Industry Experience

A qualified CTO will obviously be tech-savvy. This means having a wealth of experience using technology and a keen awareness of the latest technology developments. What’s just as important, however, is an understanding of your company’s industry. The best CTO for the job is someone with experience working in your industry and is knowledgeable about the technology that specifically applies to your business.

Outside The Box Thinking

Part of effectively performing the CTO position is coming up with innovations that push your company to continually perform at a higher level. This is how you stand out from the competition. A CTO who can think outside the box and come up with creative solutions will work wonders in making your business thrive.

Leadership Ability

In addition to being highly experienced and able to think creatively, the best CTO for the position is one who can lead with confidence. Good leadership ability usually means good people skills. Is the CTO an excellent communicator capable of actively listening as well as speaking clearly and confidently? These attributes will help a CTO lead your team into the future.


Which Does Your Business Need?

The precise needs of every business are different, but technology plays a vital role for all. So, it may be tempting to think your business only needs one of these roles. However, it’s important to recognize that they serve different purposes — one does not make the other redundant.

To keep your business operations running smoothly and efficiently, hire a CIO. They’ll also help your business scale its internal technology systems as you grow.

In the interest of supplying your customers with the best possible products and staying ahead of the competition, you’ll benefit from employing a CTO. They will guide your development teams and make sure the technology your business uses to create its products is top of the line.

It’s important to remember that, since the positions are different, a CTO is not necessarily qualified for a CIO position and vice versa. A CTO most likely has more specialized software engineering experience, whereas a CIO necessarily has more experience managing IT operations.

It’s true that not all growing businesses can afford both of these positions. When this is the case, it’s sometimes best to seek alternative solutions such as fractional CIO services, interim CIO services, or a temporary CIO. Getting all the expert guidance you can will keep you operating at peak efficiency and keep you ahead of the competition.


In Closing

It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is — technology plays a key role in your operating efficiency and the quality of your products. Due to constant development, the technology that’s available is always changing. As a result, the best solutions for your company are bound to change with it.

Such an important aspect of your business deserves to be managed with care and expertise. There’s no way around it. Involving experienced technology professionals with your business in leadership positions is quickly becoming the only way to remain competitive.

Whether your company needs a CTO, a CIO, a director of technology, or all three, take the time to find the right people for the job. Be sure to clearly define their positions within your company. In addition, ensure they are serving the business as best they can.

Is your company getting the most out of these positions?


We Help Lead Your Company into the Future

Contact us here: our team of professionals have decades of experience working in technology executive roles and are well-equipped to coach and mentor leaders across multiple industries. We offer fractional CIO resources and our Surge CIO™ or Gap CIO™ solutions as well.

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The Difference Between a CIO and a CTO
We'll discuss the time your business needs someone to run its technology for growth and even the day to day. A CIO and a CTO are positions to consider.

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