CIO vs. CTO – what are the key differences between these roles and which is a more suitable career path for you?
In this post, we’ll explore each job position in detail.
First, we’ll look at the job responsibilities of both CIOs and CTOs.
Then we’ll explore the differences between the two roles.
Finally, we’ll look at average salaries for each position.
CIO vs. CTO: Key Responsibilities and Differences
Here are the main responsibilities for each of these two leadership roles:
CIO Job Responsibilities
Chief Information Officer (CIO) job responsibilities include:
- Managing IT infrastructure, operations, and services
- Leading digital-first organizational changes
- Procures and implements new digital tools
- Manages IT teams and personnel
Duties such as these have always been a part of the CIO’s domain, yet in recent years, the CIO’s responsibilities have evolved somewhat. Thanks to the pervasive digital transformation trends that dominate the current business landscape, CIOs have now become responsible for strategic business initiatives.
Gartner, among others, have noted that the CIO’s role has expanded to include other activities, such as:
- Designing and leading digital transformation projects
- Aligning IT operations with organizational strategy
- Creating and maintaining digital adoption programs
- Cultivating a digital-friendly corporate culture
- Closing the digital divide between employees and their tools
Naturally, responsibilities will vary significantly from company to company, but these types of duties are among the most common.
CTO Job Responsibilities
The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is mainly responsible for an organization’s technology research, development, and investments – in short, CTOs leverage technology to help companies grow.
Some say that the main difference between the two jobs is that a CIO focuses on internal technology, while CTOs focus on customer-facing technology.
Among other things, CTOs will be responsible for tasks such as:
- Managing research and development teams
- Overseeing developers and product teams
- Designing and maintaining customer-facing IT systems and products
- Ensuring that customer-facing technology meets and aligns with business objectives
- Maximizing top line revenue
Just as the CIO’s exact responsibilities will vary from company to company, so too will the CTO’s role differ depending on the organization. However, these activities can serve as a general guide for those who need to understand the difference between the two roles.
Key Differences Between a CIO and CTO
We have already seen how the two jobs differ in terms of their responsibilities.
But how do these two roles compare in practice?
According to TechRepublic:
- CIOs operate in a very political environment, since so many businesses depend so much on IT to operate and stay competitive
- The role of the CIO has expanded to become more business-focused and less hands-on
- CIOs must be savvy in both business and IT
In short, the CIO is more of a business leader than a lead programmer, developer, or IT architect. Though CIOs have been viewed as “back-office” managers in the past, this has evolved considerably.
Modern CIOs, therefore, should be ready and able to manage and lead business strategies – after all, they will be responsible for business outcomes and performance.
Since the CIO’s role has changed so drastically, many companies have added a CTO position to take over certain IT functions, such as:
- Designing, recommending, and adopting technology solutions
- Developing and building IT infrastructure
- Managing engineering teams
- Overseeing and optimizing IT operations and systems
The CTO, in short, focuses more on the technical side of IT, while the CIO has shifted to the business side of IT.
This difference means that CTOs need a stronger technical background than they do a business background.
Both positions are equally justifiable investments in today’s agile, digital-first enterprise, but they do have different emphases.
CIO Salary vs. CTO Salary
Naturally, one’s own area of interest should be the determining factor when choosing a job – not the salary.
That being said, salary is an important factor to weigh when evaluating potential career paths.
Here are a few average annual salaries for CIOs in the United States:
And here are some of the average annual salaries of CTOs in the United States:
Clearly, there are disparities between the numbers from website. This is only natural, since each website draws from different pools of data.
However, in general, we can see that CTO salaries fall a bit lower on the pay scale than CIO salaries. Again, this also makes sense, since CIOs are generally more senior than CTOs.
However, when it comes to choosing a long-term career, salary should not be the most important point to consider. Instead, it is important to ask which job is the better fit.
Those who are interested in both business and technology – and who have the right skills – would probably be better suited to a CIO role.
On the other hand, those with a more technical mindset who prefer to design and build IT systems and architecture would likely be better suited for the CTO position.