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The CIO Organization Chart: How Are IT Units Structured?

In this post, we’ll take a look at the factors that most influence the CIO organization chart and the structure of IT departments.

Having a proper department structure can significantly improve communication among team members, increase productivity, and, ultimately, enhance business performance.

What Influences IT Department Structure?

Not all IT departments are created equal – some are larger, some are smaller, and some will have different directives than others.

A few factors that can influence an IT unit’s structure include:

The size of the business. In smaller companies, IT leaders will often wear multiple hats. An IT director at a small organization, for instance, may be responsible for a wide range of IT activities, such as IT operations, budgeting, and planning, while outsourcing other activities, such as cybersecurity.

The type of business. Technology companies will naturally have different IT needs than companies that are less reliant on digital tools. Software development firms, for instance, are quite literally built around IT, while companies in other industries, such as agriculture, will have much smaller IT departments.

The company’s digital direction. Today, many enterprises are heavily invested in digital transformation and digital adoption. Those that are allocating more resources to digital innovation will naturally have a different IT structure than those that are not.

It is also important to note that the structure of IT departments will also depend on how integrated the IT function is with the rest of the organization. 

A digitally mature organization, for instance, will have an IT function that is tightly integrated with the rest of the business. A company that is not as digitally mature, on the other hand, will likely still have an IT unit that is siloed and viewed as a “back-office” function.

The CIO Organization Chart: How to Structure IT Units

The smaller the organization, as mentioned, the more IT functions it will outsource.

A company of less than 100 employees, for instance, may outsource many IT-dependent functions, including:

  • Cybersecurity
  • IT support
  • IT budgeting
  • IT operations / infrastructure
  • Risk / compliance

Since every modern business depends on IT, practically all business units will rely on outsourced IT solutions. 

However, as a company increases in size, more of those solutions will be internalized.

Next, we’ll look at a few of the most common specialties that exist within an IT structure:

IT Units

Common units within the IT function include:

IT Service Management (ITSM). ITSM is concerned with maintaining and updating an organization’s IT services. It is also focused on responding to incidents and minimizing the impact of disruptions to services.

Infrastructure. IT infrastructure refers to the hardware that a company’s IT runs upon. Network and infrastructure administrators will be in charge of ensuring that the company’s hardware resources match its computing needs.

IT Security. Cybersecurity is a complex, fast-paced field that requires a high degree of expertise. Larger companies will often hire a CISO or a cybersecurity expert, but these experts will usually still work with external cybersecurity firms.

Technical Support. Technical support is more common with companies that provide IT-related products and services. When customers have questions or problems, the technical support unit will help solve those issues. 

Development. Technology companies that develop their own products will have one or more teams devoted to product research, development, and maintenance.

IT training. Large enterprises often have complex digital ecosystems that require continual upskilling and reskilling. Training departments may be part of IT, HR, or it may be a separate department altogether.

Though the names may differ slightly from organization to organization, these are a few of the most common specialties within IT. As mentioned, the larger the organization is, the more necessary it is to separate these functions out into separate business units.

IT Leadership Positions

Larger enterprises can consist of hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of employees – and, in some cases, even more.

Naturally, as an organization scales, it will need IT leaders that govern each of the specialties mentioned above.

Here are a few of the most common chief executive roles that can be found in large organizations:

CIO. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is often the senior-most IT leader in an organization. In the past, CIOs were often mostly concerned with IT service delivery and IT operations. Today, however, they are becoming more and more responsible for business strategy and digital strategy.

CTO. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) often reports to or works alongside the CIO. Their focus tends to be on, unsurprisingly, technology – they will often search for technology that can improve internal operations, the customer experience, or both.

CISO. The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is the executive responsible for cybersecurity. They will develop cybersecurity policies, coordinate with external cybersecurity firms, implement security software, and perform other tasks related to cybersecurity.

CDO. The Chief Data Officer (CDO) is the executive in charge of leveraging an organization’s data. Data, after all, is an asset, and that asset can be utilized to improve virtually any business function.

The positions listed here are a few of the most common IT executive positions, though there are others. For more information about CIOs, IT, and organizational structure, see our article that covers the structure of the C-suite.

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