With the lines between CIO and CTO blurring, organizations that have both roles in their C-suite face a unique challenge. Though these positions may have been created with a distinct purpose in mind, many organizations are finding that these roles are intertwined, and not always in ways that are good for business. In today’s digital world, technology routes all of an organization’s information and data. At times, this leads to a seeming overlap between the CIO and CTO roles, creating tense situations where the CIO and the CTO may end up as competitors or adversaries.
Lawrence Polsky, co-founder of Teams of Distinction, says, “The challenge of creating collaborative relationships between the CIO and CTO is not very different from developing true teamwork between other overlapping functions such the CMO and the VP of Sales. At the core of the issue is precisely the fact that they appear from a distance to be exactly that–overlapping. But in a well managed business (and, in turn, a collaborative relationship), the apparent similarities and functions are treated as reasons to bond as opposed to battle.”
In businesses that create and deliver technology products, the distinction between CTO and CIO is clearer, with little overlap. The CTO specializes in delivering technology innovations and products, while the CIO’s expertise lies in using technology in the context of business processes in order to improve business efficiency. The CTO focuses on providing the right technology solutions to the end customer of the business and driving the top line revenues. In contrast the CIO focuses internally, on improving efficiencies of the technology infrastructure and processes used by the organization itself, always keeping an eye on the company’s bottom line and expenses.
Where Information and Technology Overlap
For technology intensive companies that do not create technology products themselves, but rely heavily on technology infrastructure to deliver their services, the distinction between the two roles blurs, often giving rise to misconceptions regarding the role played by the CIO versus the CTO. Jeff Bernstein, Managing Director of T&M Protection Resources, explains, “Typically the role of CIO is held by a strong business leader with a solid technology background. The Chief Information Officer holds responsibility for ensuring that the organization’s information technology investments are aligned with its strategic business objectives. Because of this, the CIO is the top executive for matters relating to information assets, operations, policies and procedures. Furthermore, in most business environments the CIO is responsible for the oversight of matters relating to computing infrastructure architecture and support, network implementation, software development, mobile computing, electronic communications and information management. Most CIO responsibilities include both tactical and strategic duties, as well as overall corporate policy direction,” clarified Bernstein.
He then went on to explain the CTO role and how the CTO is expected to support the CIO in such environments, “The CTO is often the right hand of the CIO and is responsible for designing and recommending the appropriate technology solutions to support the policies and directives issued by the CIO. A good CTO helps the CIO to recommend technologies that meet the strategic business objectives of the company. The CTO should be seen as the top level technology specialist within the organization. However, unlike the CIO, the CTO focuses more on technology and less on business.”
Working Together for Business Growth
When the boundary between the CIO and the CTO role is unclear, it can unwittingly lead to the other party being seen as an opponent. In the real world, C-suite executives do not always work toward the best interest of the company. Polsky emphasized the need for the CTO and CIO to combine forces and work together for business growth, “In the typical scenario the CIO is, as the title implies, responsible for all things information based and the CTO holds sway over the technology that drives that data. These stellar members of the C-suite will thrive in the organization only if they find a way to blend their experience and capabilities as opposed to locking them in protective silos.” Bernstein added, “While the CIO and CTO roles are entirely different from one another, successful collaboration between the two is critical for organizations to develop the technology solutions needed to meet the goals of successful business.”
Summing it up, Polsky stated, “When the CIO and CTO battle or try to protect their turf, one plus one equals something less than two. When they fuse their strengths, capabilities and resources, one plus one equals three. That simple and well known math is the secret sauce of all truly great companies.”