CIO vs CTO: What’s the difference?

It is quite easy to assume that a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the same thing as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). However, there are important differences from the point of view of a mid-market CEO. Read on to learn about both job titles and their functions.

Internal or External?

Although there isn’t universal agreement on the difference, one way of thinking about it is that the CIO is more internal-facing, whilst CTOs are more external.

CIOs take ownership of internal processes – the day-to-day technology, the systems and devices. A CIO also facilitates collaboration between the Board, IT teams, and other stakeholders. A CIO speaks the language of technology and the language of business.

Of course, a CTO must communicate between techies and businesspeople. But they have a strategic function, developing the technology initiatives that will drive growth and value. For example, they will oversee the development of bespoke software and apps.

Is CIO higher than a CTO?

For organisations with both a CIO and CTO, the CIO is normally senior. But the positions should be complementary, especially if a business is looking to grow. And whilst there will of course be overlap in terms of skillsets, they are two different positions, with different career paths.

Do you need both a CIO and a CTO?

If the business is large and complex, it is a very good idea to have both a CIO and a CTO. Just make sure that there is a crystal-clear delineation of duties so that both roles add value and have space to operate effectively.

The internal vs. external idea is a good place to start. Remember: it’s the CIO’s job to keep things moving along inside the company and to communicate between the techies and business units. The CTO looks forward, developing innovations for growth.

And it behooves the CEO to ensure smooth communication and cooperation between the positions so there is no confusion or duplication of work.

Comparing a CIO and a CTO

CIO: Chief
Information Officer


IT operations
Builds systems to supports growth
Supervises vendors of internal systems
Represents IT teams to the Board
Focus on improving systems and processes
Organised, skilled communicator and technologist

CTO: Chief
Technology Officer


Ensures connection between technology and business goals
Supervises medium – to long – term initiatives, e.g. bespoke software and apps
Skilled communicator and technologist
Uses systems and digital to drive innovation and deliver value

“Freeman Clarke were able to provide a CIO to help us develop a roadmap for the future state of our IT systems, together with a strategic plan to help us get there. Our IT has always been a significant value driver in our business, and we need to ensure it stays that way.… [Our] Freeman Clarke CIO has not only helped us with creating that roadmap. He also became a key member of our senior leadership team.” – Chris Johnson, Chairman, JJS Manufacturing.

Why Freeman Clarke?

Freeman Clarke CIOs and CTOs work on a ‘fractional,’ or part-time model. This provides a business with first-class technology leadership without the full-time cost.

Our fractional technology leaders are uniquely suited to mid-market businesses. They have outstanding technical and strategic skills. They understand how to use technology to drive growth. And they are suited to the culture and reality of mid-market businesses.

Whatever the remit, our CIOs and CTOs operate from the fundamental idea of linking a business’s systems and digital strategy to business objectives. This should be the goal of every innovative, ambitious mid-market company because it’s one of the best ways to create real, sustainable growth.

To find out more about how we could add value to your business, Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.