“Symbiotic Relationship – We all are part of a life cycle… a journey together with relations that are both seen and unseen” – Ric Scalzo: Founder, Gaia Herbs
It is unclear who within an organisation the “chief technologist” is. Senior technology roles are blurring, causing confusion and uncertainty as to “who will help my business with the right technology?” Is it the CIO or the CTO? What’s the difference? Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin. Some may even argue that it is slightly schizophrenic.
In my opinion they are not contradictory or incompatible responsibilities. Understanding these two critical technology roles within an organisation is essential for the effective exploitation of technology.
I am often asked to explain the difference between CIOs and CTOs. Within many industry circles they seem to be synonymous and are often used interchangeably – however I contend that there is a clear difference between them.
Having been both, I understand the confusion, however there are clear distinction between the two positions in most large organisations. Most large organisations have its technology and IT operations overseen by a CIO or CTO, or perhaps an IT Director, Head of IT, VP of Technology, even a Managing Director of Technology or something similar. The extent to which these positions perform different roles depends on the industry and organisations. It can be everything and nothing, as well as all things in between. So let me start by identifying what I believe these roles have in common:
- A key element is helping the business understand what the technology can do for them.
- Both roles require a strong technologist with a strong grasp of the business.
- Both should be strategic thinkers.
- Both should be excellent leaders.
Now for their differences:
- The CIO runs the IT organisation whereas the CTO leads the technological development.
- The CTO is a stronger technologist than the CIO.
- The CIO is a business leader whist the CTO is a business enabler;
- The CIO is concerned with running the business (a business leader) while the CTO is concerned with how technology enables the business (a business enabler).
- The CIO is primarily focused on the bottom line whilst the CTO is concerned with the top line.
- A CIO can be operational and understand how to build repeatable processes, reliable systems, and the organization to run them, whereas a CTO will support the CIO in this effort.
To put it simply, the CIO influences the overall business strategy, while the CTO will help him drive the outcome through effective deployment of IT products and services. However, as previously mentioned, there is a blurred line between these roles and responsibilities. This calls for greater specificity in the definition of these roles. Here is what I suggest they should be:
Chief Information Officer
- Is a business leader
- Provides a vision for the future of the company in terms of technology and how it can contribute to the company’s success
- Uses technology to solve organisational problems
- Serves as the company’s top technology infrastructure manager
- Manages the organisation’s internal IT operations
- Works to streamline business processes with technology
- Focuses on internal customers (users and business units)
- Collaborates and managers suppliers that supply technology solutions and services to enhance the company’s business
- Aligns the company’s IT products and services with business priorities
- Developers strategies to increase the company’s bottom line (profitability)
- Has to be a skilled and organized business manager to be successful
Chief Technology Officer
- Is a business enabler
- Oversees the development of new technologies
- Takes the lead in evaluating technology and finding out which products meet certain business needs
- Serves as the company’s top technology architect
- Runs the organization’s engineering and technical group
- Uses technology to enhance the company’s product offerings
- Focuses on external customers (buyers)
- Manages and collaborates with vendors that supply technological infrastructure solutions to enhance the suitability and performance of the technology being used
- Aligns the company’s product architecture and infrastructure with business priorities
- Develops strategies to increase the company’s top line (revenue)
- Has to be a creative and innovative technologist to be successful
I have worked in both roles and found the challenges to be very different. During my career I moved from a pure technical architect’s role (the CTO) to a more strategic management position (the CIO). I would never have been an effective CIO without the grounding of being a CTO in place and then morph into a business leader that understand how the business can and should use technology. However, obviously this does not mean that you need to be a CTO before a CIO, but I would suggest it helps.
Consequently, I believe that in an age of digital disruption, the success or failure of any business is highly dependent on these two complementary roles and their ability to work together to deliver exactly what the business needs at precisely the right point in time.
The CIO is symbiont to the CTO and vice versa. The host is not the issue but coexistence is a must – they are two very different sides of the same IT coin.