CIOs and CTOs both play a valuable role in improving enterprise IT systems and creating new products at the executive level. Indeed, in some respects, the terms are relative and depend on the individual company, business goals and the personalities involved. In general, however, the CIO and CTO are distinct roles with different responsibilities.

The key difference is that CIOs tend to have a more inward focus and look for ways to trim the costs of IT infrastructure while ensuring compliance and boosting productivity. CTOs tend to have a more outward focus and are looking for ways that new technologies could grow opportunities.

“In a perfect world, the CTO and CIO bring out the best in one another and complement each other,” said Rajeev Sharma, CTO of Grid Dynamics, a digital transformation consultancy. “They both aim to bring value, but there is also this critical tension between the two.”

CIO’s focus on cost can hamper the ability to generate value by modernizing technology at scale. The CTO’s focus on opportunities to grow sales and revenue and provide the best customer experiences can incur new costs with no immediate payback.

Every company will approach the balance between these two roles differently, and some may even combine them. Here we delve into some of the subtleties of how different companies approach the roles, why companies often need both positions and how these two IT leaders can work together to create greater value.

What does a CIO do? Common roles and responsibilities

In keeping with the CIO mandate to align IT services with the company’s business strategy and goals, the CIO job commonly includes the following priorities and duties:

  • understanding the business and company mission;
  • focusing on the IT needs of business users;
  • working with other business departments and C-level execs to meet business goals;
  • negotiating with suppliers, partners and consultancies;
  • ensuring IT infrastructure is compliant and secure; and
  • reducing the cost of IT operations.

What does a CTO do? Common roles and responsibilities

In line with the CTO focus on using technology to drive top-line growth, the CTO job commonly includes the following priorities and duties:

  • understanding the needs of the company’s customers;
  • using new technology to create innovative products;
  • working with development teams to meet new customer opportunities;
  • tracking technology breakthroughs and best practices for implementing them; and
  • ensuring that new products and services meet compliance and security needs.

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