CIO vs. CTO: Definition, Similarities, and Differences

Updated June 16, 2023

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Two women stand next to each other under headings that say, "Chief information officer" and "Chief technology officer."

Under "Chief information officer," there are these duties:
• Developing goals and strategies for the IT and operations department
• Coordinating with internet service providers
• Acquire the suitable business solutions for the company
• Relaying technical information to other departments

Under "Chief technology officer" are these items:
• Working with in-house engineers to develop new products
• Managing the company's technological roadmap
• Ensuring that the company manages its intellectual property properly
• Studying and understanding technologies the organization uses

Many organizations rely on technology to manage their operations efficiently. Companies from various industries typically employ individuals in executive positions to help improve their technology and information infrastructures. Learning about these professions can be helpful if you're an HR professional or considering a career in information technology. In this article, we define what a chief information officer (CIO) and chief technology officer (CTO) are and compare CIO vs. CTO roles by describing their similarities, differences, and qualifications.

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The importance of comparing CIO vs. CTO

It's important to compare CIOs vs. CTOs because each of these positions involves performing a distinct set of tasks that are crucial to the success of a business. Many people consider these roles interchangeable because they're both executive-level positions in the field of information technology. In a corporate environment, these two may also share similar functions. Their core difference is in terms of focus. Companies that successfully maximize the benefits of both positions understand the importance of clearly defining each role.

In an organization that employs a CIO and a CTO, outlining the role of each position is crucial. Doing so allows both executives to manage their responsibilities efficiently and help develop focused policies to achieve the business objectives. This also enables the organization to establish metrics and KPIs to measure the performance and efficiency of its technology management. These help the company decide how best to allocate human resources and invest in its technology infrastructure.

Related: Guide to Understanding Company Titles (With Salaries)

What's a chief information officer?

A CIO is an executive typically responsible for the IT operations and technology infrastructure of a company. They manage, implement, and use computer technologies to meet business objectives. CIOs also manage the security of company information, ensuring that business processes run smoothly and efficiently.

While the CIO's primary focus is on the IT department, they also often contribute to improving the processes of other business units. For example, they may help automate systems or digitize the files of various departments. Their role encompasses the entire company because they manage all in-house technology processes. A CIO's main goal is to provide technological solutions to a company's internal processes, so they seek to understand all aspects of its operations. Their other responsibilities may include:

  • Developing goals and strategies for the IT and operations department

  • Coordinating with internet service providers and other solutions vendors to improve productivity and acquire the suitable business solutions for the company

  • Relaying technical information to other departments in a way that team members understand

  • Being up to date on technology trends due to the fast-paced nature of the IT industry

  • Managing and overseeing the IT department and business operations

  • Studying and deploying new technologies to streamline and improve business processes

  • Conducting research on new technologies and systems to improve the company's IT infrastructure

  • Implementing effective IT solutions to improve the efficiency of business operations

What's a chief technology officer?

A CTO is an executive in charge of all technological needs of a company, especially its research and development. They focus on using new technologies to improve a company's products and services, which may help the business achieve its objectives. CTOs also often lead the organization's engineering group and grow the business externally by implementing policies that benefit the company's customers. They're usually creative and innovative because these qualities are necessary to be effective in their role.

The CTO often studies the short- and long-term needs of a company and uses resources to achieve the company's goals. They stay up to date with current trends and new technologies to keep up with other professionals in the industry and implement timely updates on company technology. As part of their role in innovating, they usually collaborate with other departments to design competitive products and services. Their other responsibilities may include:

  • Working with in-house engineers to develop new products

  • Managing the company's technological roadmap

  • Ensuring that the company manages its intellectual property properly

  • Studying and understanding technologies the organization uses

  • Developing strategies for the company's product developers and designers

  • Improving business processes through the use of new technologies

  • Working with vendors to improve the company's products and services

  • Increasing company revenue by performing a cost-benefit analysis

Read more: What is a CTO? The Steps You Can Take to Become One

Similarities between CIOs and CTOs

A CIO and CTO are senior positions with the common goal of improving an organization's technological processes. Both roles often aim to increase company revenue and achieve other business goals by making technological operations efficient and cost-effective. A CIO and CTO also lead, manage, and collaborate with different departments to optimize internal and external business processes. They're usually responsible for ensuring that all company-related information and data are secure.

Related: What Does C-level Mean for Executives? (With Types of Roles)

Differences between CIOs and CTOs

It's common for many companies to employ both a CIO and CTO. These positions are distinct and can help a business achieve its goals in different ways. While both roles deal with information and technology, they differ in the following aspects:


The focus of a CTO is usually on developing the company's products, while a CIO's goal is to improve the company's internal processes. While CIOs collaborate with employees and departments to develop business processes, CTOs coordinate with vendors to addresses the needs of customers and other external entities who use and purchase the company's technology products. The CIO typically focuses on internal IT operations, while the CTO builds technology products to satisfy customer requirements.

Departmental responsibility

The CIO usually leads and manages the IT department, while the CTO is often in charge of the engineering department, company developers, and the research and development team. The CIO typically works with the IT department as the lead programmer and developer. A CIO's primary responsibility is to integrate information architecture with the priority business functions. The CTO often collaborates with the company engineers to develop and improve existing products to maintain market competitiveness. They may also create new products that give the company an advantage over its competitors.


The CIO's objective is often to improve the company's productivity by improving internal processes. To achieve this, the CIO drives efficiency by providing efficient operating solutions. The CTO usually aims to increase company revenue by delivering high-end, innovative technology to customers. The CIO promotes productivity while the CTO drives innovation.


The CIO typically develops strategies that increase the company's bottom line. This is the company's net income or the amount left after deducting its expenses from its total revenue. The CTO differs in that effective performance of their role often leads to an increase in the company's top line. This refers to the total earnings or gross sales of the business, which are the result of selling its goods and services to customers. The CIO increases the net revenue while the CTO works on the overall total revenue.

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Qualifications of CIOs and CTOs

A CIO or CTO role often requires a background in information technology and relevant work experience. Candidates for these positions also typically possess leadership skills and experience managing people. Here are the qualifications that hiring managers usually look for in candidates for CIO or CTO:

Qualifications of a CIO

It may be necessary to possess a degree in information technology (IT) or a related field for this role. Since it's an executive position, many employers prefer a candidate with a graduate degree. You may obtain a master's degree in IT. You may also study a business-related field, such as business administration or marketing, because the role typically requires an individual who understands how a business operates. Excellent communication skills may also be an advantage because the CIO role usually involves coordinating with other departments and explaining technical information.

To qualify for CIO, employers usually require at least 10 years of industry experience and extensive training from candidates because this is a high-ranking position. The national average salary for a chief information officer is $22.33 per hour. The highest paying cities are Halifax in Nova Scotia and Toronto in Ontario.

Related: How to Write an Executive Resume (With Tips and Example)

Qualifications of a CTO

A degree in computer science, information science, or any IT course may be necessary to become a CTO. Hiring managers usually prefer a candidate with an advanced degree in computer science, technology management, cybersecurity, business, or any related field. Work experience of at least 15 years is also desirable for the role.

Possessing on-the-job experience and industry certifications can help secure the job because these significantly enhance your credentials. A candidate with experience in sales and marketing may gain an advantage because the role requires skills in customer relations and communication. The national average salary for a chief technology officer is $102,150 per year and the executives who make the most are in the cities of Calgary, Ottawa, and Ontario.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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