Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CIO CTO - What's The Difference?

A frequent debate both inside and around the technology community is the difference between the CIO and the CTO. Of course, depending on the particular industry or company, this can be very subjective. A rose by any other name and all that. In smaller organizations the distinction becomes even harder to define, assuming both roles are even present. If there is only one head of technology, what title is most appropriate?

In my view there is a difference and it is largely based in the key focus for the person in the role. The Chief Information Officer should focus outside of the computer room while the CTO is going to have more of an inward focus. But its not always that simple.

Both a CIO and a CTO have to be in touch with the business. Both are going to want to help the business to reach its goals. But I think of the CIO as the architect of the company, looking at how the ultimate customer receives products or services and looking across functions to improve business processes and increase operating efficiency.

The CTO is going to spend more time looking at new and innovative technology in preparation for responding to needs the business may express. While there may be a clear and concise understanding of the business, the CTO is more comfortable experimenting for example with various mobile operating systems or data management systems to determine which might provide the best platform or determining, perhaps, how to best support a few of them should this become necessary.

Another way to express how I see it is the CIO is a business executive who happens to really understand technology, while the CTO is a computer scientist who, outside of the lab, can speak plain and understandable English. The CIO will lead with the business issue while the CTO may start from the technology. One is more at home in the computer room while the other is more comfortable in the Board room.

In a technology organization, the CIO is usually charged with keeping the internal systems running while the CTO may be head of R&D or production. Think about a software company where the product is technology but you still have to support sales and marketing, accounting and distribution systems.

Finally, the CTO generally reports to the CIO. However, there are many cases where the CIO is along side or under the CTO. Take any software or high tech company and the CTO will carry much more weight and typically be higher on the food chain in those organizations..

None of this is absolute and there are going to be plenty of exceptions but at least you may have a slightly better perspective on these two titles.

Now can someone the difference between a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Accounting Officer to me?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC