CIO, CTO, or CISO: Which One do I Need?

We’re often approached by ambitious mid-market CEOs looking to transform their business with IT and technology. The question of how to do it depends on the particular business. (When a salesperson tells you their product is exactly what you need to fix all your problems, hide your wallet.) What all these businesses have in common, however, is the need for an experienced, business-minded IT expert in the C-suite who can lead the transformation.

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Another question quickly arises: What kind of expert? Does your mid-market business need a CIO, a CTO, or a CISO? Let’s take you briefly through each position so you can make an informed decision.

What is a CIO?

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a senior-level position with ultimate responsibility for technology, teams, and suppliers. CIOs provide clear oversight of systems, processes, data reporting, and staff — when it comes to IT and technology, the buck stops with them.

CIOs will actively contribute to C-suite discussions on higher-level decisions and will ensure the IT solutions support the business strategy. Their focus is on business improvements, risk management, and cybersecurity, rather than delivering the day-to-day technology.

In addition, CIOs drive integration, automation, and transformation projects, such as an ERP or custom software development.

CIOs have decades of experience in all aspects of technology and IT, so they tend to earn high salaries. (See our article on CIO salaries.)

What is a CTO?

A Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is also a senior-level position, someone with deep business and IT experience who can create, lead, and deliver technology strategies and solutions to accelerate business growth. The CTO, however, will be more involved with delivering technology initiatives, for example overseeing the development of custom software or apps.

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

CTOs also have decades of experience and tend to earn high salaries, if not quite as high as a CIO. (See our article on how to determine CTO salaries.)

What is a CISO?

A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is also a senior-level executive, and usually works closely with a CIO and/or a CTO. As a mid-market business becomes larger and more complex, it often needs a specialist to own and lead cybersecurity, so they hire a CISO.

A CISO is specifically responsible for the security and safekeeping of technology, information, and systems. They communicate risk mitigation strategies to their senior colleagues in plain English, while driving the leadership and cultural changes that make security a reality.

This means that CISOs have ownership of cybersecurity for a business’s infrastructure, applications, and systems and processes. They manage information risk and regulatory compliance, as well as disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

CISOs are highly specialized and in-demand, so they too command high salaries.

Paying for a CIO, CTO, or CISO

Hopefully you now have a better idea of the differences between the positions and what your own business may need. There is also the question of how to pay for them. Mid-market businesses often don’t want, don’t need, or can’t find a full-time CIO, CTO, or CISO. That’s why Freeman Clarke uses the fractional or part-time model. (See our article, Why Fractional?)

We are not a recruitment firm. We’re a team of 100+ senior-level CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs who can join your senior leadership team to own and deliver your IT strategy and cybersecurity on a fractional basis.

This means that we bring transformational business benefits at a fraction of the cost. Our expert technology leaders create, lead, and deliver systems and digital strategies that will drive growth and innovation, help you seize new opportunities, and ensure you’re safe from cyber concerns, without harming your bottom line.

The range and experience of our IT leaders also means that you’re not limited to the strict definition of any of the above roles. We get you the IT leader you need, which might draw together different aspects of a CIO, CTO, or CISO.

Visit our CIOs, CTOs & CISOs Knowledge Center which includes all content related to this topic

If you’d like to learn how we’ve helped mid-market businesses like yours, read our client stories. Or Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.