Typically, there are two technical executive leadership roles in most organizations: the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Chief Technical Officer (CTO). But there can be confusion between these two positions, a lot of questions when comparing the CIO vs CTO, and often they might actually fuse into a single position depending on the business strategy. Their positions might not be so clear to the people who work for them. This confusion is natural, as the expectations of these two tech execs have transformed in recent years.
Digital businesses today differ vastly from a decade ago. With new channels created regularly, we must adapt quickly. Technical leaders in companies are directly responsible for solving business problems with technology. Simultaneously, most sit in on board meetings and executive staff meetings. Tech executives breathe business and technology in tandem and quickly translate business goals into technical action plans. The executive is also responsible for building and operating a team to execute, operate, and maintain the technology footprint.
With this at the forefront of my mind as the new CTO at Logz.io, I want to illustrate the way I see these two posts.
What is a CIO?
The CIO is responsible for enterprise level IT systems and most often reports to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) directly. They focus on business, the user, and means of communication. Oftentimes, these will typically be internally-focused systems. The CIO’s oversight includes systems which employees interact with more directly, focusing less on customer interaction. This includes services, support, and associated operational needs of different applications and apparatuses.
However, CIOs have recently seen added responsibility for some customer-facing systems, since those often interface directly with internal systems. With products the company builds for external use, the CIO is a stakeholder and has some responsibility. Still, he or she doesn’t own the externally facing product technology stack.
Additionally, CIOs are often responsible for security. They have to have a background or education in both business and tech. Finally, CIOs often have to handle multiple teams for these internal systems and technologies.
What is a CTO?
Very similar to CIOs, CTOs make broader technology decisions more pertinent to organizational strategy. More often than not, they target the company’s goals, including experiments which may produce major business benefits.
The CTO must be technical and understand the underlying business, especially if the organization is technology-focused. Many CTOs have a computer science background, but many highly successful CTOs have actually learned it on the job. In fact, they may not even have professional degrees but extensive experience. Understanding the business from the perspective of the technology it uses, this means that CTOs work more closely with customers, external stakeholders, those building applications and managing relationships and understand the business from a technology perspective.
There are also a lot more variances in CTO roles and seniority. In some organizations, CTOs run the engineering and/or product teams. In some, the CTO actually reports to the CIO, where in others they may report to the CEO.
CSO vs CDO vs CIO vs CTO? The Modern CTO is Here
With many organizations shifting to digital businesses, or those businesses which produce significant portions of their revenue on software and data systems, the CTO is more of a critical driver of business goals. The CTO partners with other executives such as the CIO and the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to ensure that security executives such as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) requirements and business needs are being met and the technology strategy is well understood and aligned with these other stakeholders’ projects and initiatives.
We’ve seen new types of CTOs emerge within those above-mentioned variances, such as my role at Logz.io.
The Technical Exec and Strategy
For me, strategy is critical to the CTO. This of course includes pricing and packaging, but the CTO also becomes the evangelist for the company’s technologies and future. That elevates the importance of developer relations. In line with this, the CTO ideally becomes a partner to product managers, engineers, and those looking to interact with the broader community.
For my part, I have spent and continue to spend a lot of time with customers and prospects. More vitally, I am devoted to discussions about where we are going and whether this and that does — or does not — align with our customers’ stated (or even unstated) needs.
As an extension of a modern CTO’s guise as a DevRel, I see an obligation to contribute to the tools the community is creating and sharing together. The open source ecosystem carries intrinsic and (ultimately) extrinsic value to my organization. Especially at a company like Logz.io that utilizes such tools, it is important the CTO leads the charge in contributing back into that pool of open software.
Aside from the community, my office CTO manages technical partnerships and drives the integration strategy for Logz.io, since no company in observability can meet customer needs alone. This requires product and ecosystem depth and understanding which are also well suited to the CTO as a broad technology executive.
These new types of executives blur the lines, and that isn’t going away anytime soon. Much of this is only a sample of what is just my particular vision of the CTO’s place in a modern, digitized organization. If you have comments or different perspectives, please start a conversation with me @jkowall .Thanks for reading my perspective!
Completely free for 14 days, no strings attached.