So we have two TLA’s (Three Letter Acronyms) that look alike and sound alike, what is the difference between a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)? I will give you a different answer and prospective than you will see by Googling the terms. The difference is very simple: Whatever the two of them decide it should be.
Sure there are standard definitions, but they should only serve as guidelines. An organization is unlikely to find two people that fit the textbook roles and they should not try. The two need many overlapping talents – vision for the future, ability to truly see the present, a deep understanding of the business and industry, and the ability to lead and inspire their people.
I have seen many pairings in different shapes and flavors. One organization had the CTO as a peer of the CIO, where the CTO (with no direct reports) reported to the CEO and the CIO reported to the COO. In some, the CTO is little more than the “idea man” for the development organization. Most common is the CTO who manages the Enterprise Architecture group. The textbook-ideal has the CIO doing hands-on management of the Operations organization, and managing the Development organization through his proxy, the CTO.
The structure does not really matter as long as it supports the natural division of talents between the CIO and the CTO. They are partners in helping the business drive for success. For example, while the CIO would typically be responsible for the supply chain, if the CTO has a very strong LEAN background, they may swap that role. The two should split up the responsibilities for the department based on which one can best do each major task.
Speaking in generalities, however, the basic distinction is that the CIO focuses more on current operations and efficiencies, while the CTO focuses more on growing the catalog of business capabilities. Within that very high level division of interest, the two of them operate as a team filling in all the holes and driving excellence into the business.
I have seen a new definition pop up lately, the Chief Science Officer (and every time I hear it, I think of Spock – smile). Has anyone ever seen such a role in their organization? How did it compare to CTO and CIO, and did it make an operational difference to the organization? Please comment here and let us all know.
I'd love to hear what you think!