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What is the difference between CIO and CTO? You tell me!

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Balaji Prasad 0 Points | Fri, 10/28/2011 - 01:52

There is a strategic function and an operational function.  CIO's in many companies end up playing both and it's a tough balancing act.  I've seen the CTO role in organizations where technology is embedded in the products/services - and be the strategic role that aligns business and IT systems.  As technology gets more embedded in products/services or the customer-facing points at  companies that have not been as technology-centric, the CIO/CTO model can provide a separation of concerns and some healthy tension that exists outside of one role/individual.  So does operation fall under strategy/innovation, vice-versa or is it a peer-to-peer model?

John Dodge 1535 Points | Fri, 10/28/2011 - 19:38

Hi Balaji and welcome to Enterprise CIO Forum,

If I understand your question correctly, I think Strategy/innovation always trumps the operational side. Is that what you were asking? And what do you think? S/I tells the operational what to do and often, how to do it....that's not say the operational can't do a little innovating on its own.  

Balaji Prasad 0 Points | Tue, 11/01/2011 - 20:27

John, My question was really a bit rhetorical.  I see operations usually trumping strategy/innovation especially if one individual is responsible for both; and even otherwise - it's just the nature of organizations.  What is visible, measurable, visceral and immediate drives mindshare and action.  Separating strategy/innovation out from operations may introduce some tension, which if managed effectively, may promote a balance.

John Dodge 1535 Points | Wed, 11/02/2011 - 00:17

Balaji, Here's a post that might interest you along with a ton of comments about innovation and outsourcing. After all, what's more operational than outsourcing?

Balaji Prasad 0 Points | Sat, 11/05/2011 - 02:57

Thanks, John. Innovation is a subject that generates a lot of words.  I see innovation as directed change that is considered beneficial. To drive change in the real world requires change in thought patterns - not merely change in understanding but also "getting it" at a deeper level. Collectively.  And therein lies the rub.  It's not easy to accomplish this in a large organization.  And the "getting it" part is not something that can be driven well by an outsider outsourcing vendor, even if they have the motivation to do this.

Martin Palmgren
Martin Palmgren 47 Points | Tue, 10/04/2011 - 08:11

Hi John, at the upper part of the businesses that I work with the CIO position is put in place once the ERP structure is in place in order for the business to have an interlocutator that is not tied down with day to day IT operations. It is also in the CIO's role to give the CTO enough slack to operate effectively.

The role of the CIO is also to advice the COO on how to support the business strategy and set objectives with IT when needed.

Kind Martin 

Creagh Warren 4 Points | Tue, 10/04/2011 - 03:06

Doesn't look like there's much response to this question John and I'll take a stab at why - no one knows. Where did the CTO term come from and when did it get made 'official'? I guess the same questions can be applied to any position title but the impression I had when I first started hearing the of the title was that CTO and CIO were essentially synonomous. Recently, though, it seems that the 'accepted' difference is now that the CTO is more technical.

If this is the case then I strongly disagree with a CTO position. 'C' indicates that it essentially reports to the CEO (perhaps CFO for some poor CIOs) but for the life of me I can't see why anyone needs two technology based C roles at this level. As such, I think the whole CTO fascination is cheapening the CIO role as well. I'm not going to go into what a CIO role does (and it varies somewhat anyway from company to company) but I think I can safely generalise and say that it's a little more focussed on strategy and business.  The senior most technical person (what some are calling a CTO) should report to the CIO to give him the info he needs to share with fellow C-levels and the board - in a language that they understand (which is more business than technical).

So, my thoughts are that if the CTO title can't be wiped from the face of the earth then it should just be synonomous with CIO.

John Dodge 1535 Points | Wed, 10/05/2011 - 13:30

My sense is that companies with CTOs tend to be technology driven. The CIO takes care of data assets and the supporting infrastructure while the CTO is dedicated to evaluating new technologies...or approaches to technology adoption. Make sense?

Creagh Warren 4 Points | Wed, 10/05/2011 - 14:51

I see your point but I believe that it is part of the CIOs role to be part of evaluating new technologies - at least from a potential business benefit aspect and staff reporting to the CIO would do the more technical aspects of the evaluation. I still don't believe that the technical role (CTO or whatever you want to call it) should be at the same level as the CIO. That role needs to supply the CIO with information from this R&D aspect in order to take to the board where appropriate and where the new technology is worth investing in based on ROI leading to business growth - in way way or another.

John Dodge 1535 Points | Wed, 10/05/2011 - 15:39

It's a matter of emphasis...for example, Intel has a CTO and a CIO.....the CTO is charged with looking at technologies that can impact Intel's product. I would suspect companies in the tech business tend to have CTOs more than others...but what industry, to a lesser or greater degree, isn't tech driven... 

In businesses like Intel, the differences between the job of CIO and CTO are pretty clear...if a CIO can get a piece of the CTO action, i.e. evaluating technologies, all the better. My sense is that there are two distinct and different jobs.


Creagh Warren 4 Points | Fri, 10/07/2011 - 06:44

If the CTO is focussed on the technology that a technology company sells then that's fine but then it more comes under the COOs role. If the CTO is doing anything with the technology that supports a companies core business (whatever it is) then I think it should not be a C-level role and should report to the CIO.

Are you really suggesting that most companies are tech driven? Technology is an enabler not necessarily a driver - again except in a company where the core business is the sale of technology. I think the example of Intel is a poor example to use. Let's take a fresh food wholesaler - they are not driven by technology but can utilise technology to give competitive edge, grow their customer base, reduce expenditure and increasse profit margins, etc. but this would all come under the CIO. There's no need for a CTO because the core product is fruit and vegetables, not integrated circuits. The driver is just making more money out of the core business, which was done hundreds of years ago without any technology (if you don't count the wheel). Technology is just one way to help achieve that objective of more money, marketing is another, refined operational process is another, etc.

End result, I still don't understand what the CTO does besides add another confusing C-level position that doesn't need to exist. The person doing that role reports to either the CIO or the COO, depending on the industry.

John Dodge 1535 Points | Fri, 10/07/2011 - 13:47

Enabler is probably a better word than driven.....but you get my drift. All I can say, there are a lot of CTOs out there....probably as many CTOs as COOs whose ranks, I suspect, have thinned through the years.