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CIO, CTO or Both? Organizing your Top Table Ahead of an IT Project

Does your business have a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technical Officer (CTO)? If so, do they have clear, distinct roles and responsibilities?

With many companies needing to change their relationship with IT due to the coronavirus pandemic, now is as good a time as any to make any organizational changes ahead of a new IT or tech development project. If you don’t currently hire to a CIO or CTO position, it could be time to consider it.

We look at the traditional roles of the CIO and CTO and what skills both need to do well. We also take a look at alternatives to the CIO/CTO set-up and how to get these officers working well together.

The Role of the CIO

The traditional focus of the CIO is inward. He or she is hired to look after the company’s internal IT systems and the business units that are dependent on them. As such, the CIO tends to represent the IT function at board level.

Looking at it from a balance sheet perspective, the CIO can be said to be mainly responsible for the bottom line, that is reducing capital and operational costs where possible. In IT parlance, the CIO, as head of the internal IT department, is often said to be responsible for ‘keeping the lights on’.

Other areas that tend to be under the CIO’s remit are ensuring data compliance and turning system analytics into actionable business insights.

As businesses have been turning to a remote workforce in light of the pandemic, many CIO’s will have been involved in setting up VPNs and drawing up, with other department heads, BYOD policies.

In most businesses, the CIO works most closely with the CEO and other top table officers in developing business strategy. As such, the CTO will normally report to the CIO and this is reflected in a slightly higher average salary for the CIO position.

The Role of the CTO

In contrast, the traditional focus of the CTO is outward. He or she is hired to develop the company’s tech products and the supporting technology that is needed to maximize revenue from them. The DevOps team will usually report to the CTO.

The CTO will be heavily invested in sourcing technology from external partners that will improve on their tech offering. They will also keep in close contact with their business customers to make sure that their needs are being met by the products supplied.

If a company does not create tech products, the CTO is most likely to be involved in developing and optimizing the company’s website, mobile apps and other technologies. They will often work alongside the sales and marketing heads to gain insight into what needs to be done on a technical level to improve performance.

From a balance sheet perspective, the CTO can be said to be mainly responsible for the top line, that is increasing gross revenue.

As mentioned above, the CTO will often report to the CIO but the reverse case is sometimes (though rarely) true.

Key skills you need to see in your CIO and CTO

While both roles require technical understanding, it is the CTO who is the traditional creative technologist of the company. They need to have a deep understanding of the technology the company sells (or uses to aid selling) in order to constantly improve and develop it.

In terms of soft skills, the CTO is usually expected to be an innovator and explorer, coming up with novel solutions to client problems and tapping new markets and niche opportunities. Due to their advanced technical understanding, the CTO will often be closely involved with client businesses, answering any technological questions and listening to feedback. In some ways, the CTO is more of a leader than a manager, pushing boundaries and pioneering new ways forward.

The CIO is today rarely expected to have in-depth technical knowledge although the more they do have, the more respected they are likely to be. They are more focused on what the company needs than how to achieve it.

The CIO is often a skilled communicator and organizer, bringing together the teams required to make operational changes that save the company money. The CIO is more of a manager than a leader, working within operational constraints to maximize efficiency and cost-savings.

Another way: alternatives to the CIO/CTO set-up

If you are looking at the traditional CIO and CTO roles and thinking that this structure wouldn’t work for you, there are alternatives.

Some companies prefer to separate the roles in terms of supply and demand. In this case, the CIO’s role would be to tell the CTO what the business needs to increase profits, both on the IT and the development side. The CTO would be in charge of sourcing the right technology and partner services to meet that demand.

Other businesses combine both features in a hybrid role. For example, companies that don’t create tech products may not have much of a need for a dedicated CTO. They might instead hand any responsibilities for sourcing profit-generating tools and technologies to the CIO.

Another option is to create a new executive role which acts as the catalyst for real change. For example, you could appoint a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) into which the CIO and, if you have one, CTO would report. This can help to shake up the status quo and could be a temporary or permanent measure.

Bringing the CIO and CTO together

Do you have problems getting the CIO and CTO working together? In some businesses, the CIO can see the CTO as someone who rushes into new projects without planning and wastes resources. The CTO might complain that the CIO lacks technical knowledge and is too risk averse.

This might be fine (though not ideal) if they are siloed for much of the time. However, a big shift like changing your IT architecture or revamping a remote working IT policy may need input from both. You want to iron out any problems before you start work on the project.

To help bring the roles together, it can help to clearly set out the roles and responsibilities of each officer and then set them up on a preliminary project together. This can help to foster respect and cooperation. If there are any problems, make it clear that they need to be brought out into the open so that they can be resolved. This will ensure you are ready to hit the road running when implementing the main IT or tech development project you are rolling out.

Do you need help with a new IT strategy?

At Penncomp, we regularly work with Houston businesses looking to implement a new IT strategy or refine an existing one. If you can have your corporate structure fully organized by the time we arrive, you will find the whole process goes that much smoother.

As well as your overall IT planning strategy, we will help you to define reporting requirements, create phased budgets, determine end user needs, write up policies and procedures, procure software and other tools and set up procedures for risk identification and management.

Other services we offer include infrastructure management, project management, backup and storage solutions, disaster recovery and business email migration.