One of the questions I hear with some frequency is "what's the difference between a CIO and a CTO?" Having been both, I think I have some insights that might be helpful.
First let me talk about what I think they have in common:
- In both jobs, a key role is helping technologists understand what the business needs and helping the business understand what the technology can do for them.
- Both roles require a strong technologist with a strong grasp of business (kind of a corollary to the last point, but slightly different).
- Both should be strategic thinkers.
- Both should be excellent leaders.
Now for their differences:
- I see a CTO as primarily focused on the top line while the CIO is primarily focused on the bottom line. There's some cross over, but I think this is a valid distinction.
- A CTO is primarily concerned with external products and customers while a CIO is primarily concerned with running the business (internal products and customers).
- In an ideal world, the CTO runs the product development organization while the CIO runs the IT organization.
- If you have to choose, being a strong technologist is more important for the CTO, while being a good manager is more important for the CIO.
- A CIO has to be operational and understand how to build repeatable processes, reliable systems, and the organization to run them. A CTO doesn't necessarily have to have these skill if backed up by a strong operational person in the role of CIO.
A large technology oriented company (more than a few hundred employees) should have both. There's too much to do for one person and the thinking can be very different. One of the big problems at Excite\\@Home was they never had someone at the "C" level who was looking internally. "IT" was a division (not even a VP slot) inside the larger technology organization. There were four levesl between this director and the CEO. The result was real chaos in the internal systems and operations areas. The CTO was a brilliant technologist, but not very "operational" and consequently, repeatable processes were hard to find.
Personally I've enjoyed both roles, but I found the challenges to be very different.