What is the difference between a CTO and a CIO?

The C-suite management level has expanded rapidly in recent years, evolving to include executives managing sectors from culture (CCO) to diversity (CDO). Each role involves different skills and outputs, and of course each business has its own unique needs. Not every business will necessarily require a full C-suite management team, with many opting to choose only those which they see a defined need for, and an increasing number now choosing to outsource.

Typically, the senior executive IT roles within businesses are the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and the Chief Information Officer (CIO) These positions are often perceived as being very similar – or even the same roles merely under a different title – but each position actually has its own different key responsibilities and unique ways that it can benefit a business. Below, we take a detailed look at each role…

What does a CIO do?

The role of the Chief Information Officer is to manage all IT and computer systems and structures within the business, naturally with a focus on information management and strategy. Typically reporting directly to the CEO, the CIO’s responsibilities are likely to include efficiency, strategic planning, policy creation, auditing, security processes, talent management and oversight of technology.

For example, Gartner’s 2019 CIO Agenda found that 88% of surveyed CIOs named cybersecurity as their top investment area, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and conversational platforms other large areas already being developed or utilised. 40% predicted AI would be a “game changer” for their organisation, with Data Analytics also scoring highly as an identified trend.

Firms looking to undergo a digital transformation, or those who use tech across the entire business can benefit greatly from a CIO. The role is about moving a firm forward, identifying opportunities to use technology more efficiently across all business departments and making sure strategies across the whole business are in line with the latest trends. Within larger tech firms and digital businesses, the CIO is usually responsible for how technology works internally. The CIO is likely to be the “face” of the IT department as a whole across the company. In an increasing majority of businesses with CIOs, this individual reports directly to the CEO and the board.

What does a CTO do?

The Chief Technology Officer is primarily concerned with software development and related resources, and is usually the executive in charge of an organisation’s tech projects as a whole. The CTO is likely to design and implement tech and cybersecurity strategy, and can work in tandem with either an IT Director and CIO, or with both.

In the past, CTOs might have been primarily focused on software development within their business, managing teams and overseeing IT systems. As the world of business moves more and more to a total reliance on tech and cloud-based systems, CTOs have diversified to look with increasing frequency at digital innovation and product development.

The CTO role looks to identify ways to improve or innovate products and services that serve the businesses clients. Largely focused on external clients and outsourced programmes, the CTO needs to keep a finger on the pulse of what your organisation’s clients want, the way they use tech and the ways in which other companies are utilising software. To that end, tasks such as collaborating with third-party suppliers, managing developer teams, conducting regular IT reviews and keeping up-to-date with the broader tech marketplace are all likely to be frequent points on the CTO’s agenda.

For businesses with customer-facing websites or tech enterprises (or those dealing largely with outside IT contractors), a CTO is likely essential. CTOs are well-suited to businesses with a software focus – for example ecommerce firms or customer-facing portals. A CTO operating as the head of the IT division deals with the business’ tech as a whole rather than management. Start-ups and small businesses may opt to solely appoint a CTO in the IT-realm at least at the outset, due to a reliance on cutting-edge digital interfaces and constant tech innovation.

Does my business need a CIO or a CTO?

The short answer is – it depends! Every business is different, and the executive requirements will shift depending on industry, personnel, customer reach, sector and more.

In summary, a CIO would be more relevant to a business looking to improve or digitise a business process, service or product and develop strategies to increase their company’s profitability. Whereas, a CTO would be more relevant for a business looking to create something new or better for its external customers and develop strategies to increase its companies revenue.

Beyond this, it comes down to your organisations structure and objectives as to which role would benefit your business the most. In many cases, it’s not a case of choosing between these roles. Lots of companies (especially larger businesses and PLCs) opt to have a CTO and CIO to cover all bases when it comes to in-house IT management, digital innovation, cyber security and tech strategy. As the global marketplace continues to lean more heavily on cloud systems, AI platforms and digital innovation, the need for skilled IT specialists in Senior Management will grow year-on-year.

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