When talking to business managers, I often find confusion about the roles of technology leadership positions. CIO and CTO titles are frequently used interchangeably. Sometimes they only have a Director of Technology who reacts to “tech issues” when they come up. For the sake of clarity, I’ll offer my observation that Technology leaders tend toward one of two orientations: Internal business processes or external product development.
CIO is primarily internally-facing.
The CIO, or the Chief Information Officer, is a company’s top technology strategist who understands the business information needs of the company and the stakeholders of corporate operations. Maintains internal IT systems, including company information domains and business processes. A CIO typically reports to the CEO on business models and vision issues, and collaborates with other business executives to support ongoing and planned operations. The CIO is a business administrator with IT experience.
A CTO is primarily customer-facing.
The CTO, or the Chief Technology Officer, is a company’s top engineer who most understands the science behind technology alternatives and frequently heads product research and development initiatives as they relate to the company’s current and future product offerings. A CTO typically also reports to the CEO and plans for technology research and development translating into product evolution. The CTO is a technology person contributing to the company business model from a product development perspective.
Update: For what its worth, I have experience with both roles, and also the even more ambiguous title, Chief Innovation Officer. I think my distinctions are less accurate seven years after I originally wrote them and are becoming less interchangeable. As of now, CIOs tend to be more internal IT keep-the-lights-on technology administrators while CTOs are more likely entirely client-focused product development leaders.
What’s your take?
Do my descriptions match your understanding of the different roles? Do technology leaders in your organization participate at the highest levels of decision making? Does anybody know what they do at all?