In light of the importance of leadership capabilities for the digital transformation of an organization, chances are high that you stumble upon abbreviations like CTO, CIO or CDO. I didn’t really know what the exact difference is, so I started to do conduct a little research and I would like to share the results with you.
The term CIO, Chief Information Officer, was first defined by Synnott and Gruber in 1981 as a senior executive of the organization responsible for information policy, management, control, and standards. They further added that the five primary functions of a CIO include participation in corporate strategic planning, responsibility for information systems planning, leading the development of corporate or institutional information policy, management of the organization’s information resources, and development of new information systems capabilities. I believe this definition is still quite accurate to describe the role of a CIO today. Just today the focus of a CIO is much more on actually increasing profits with the use of IT. From the definition, you can also tell that a CIO is rather internally faced and is mostly responsible for processes that happen within the organization.
The role of a CTO, a Chief Technology Officer, shares some common attributes with the role of a CIO. Both positions need to have a strong business understanding in order to bring added value to the organization and to align their respective responsibilities with organizational goals. They also need to have a technical background, so that they can understand and evaluate the underlying technologies in a business. In comparison to a CIO however, the CTO has a more customer facing role and is mostly responsible for enhancing the company’s product offerings. Connected to that, another difference of both roles is that the CTO is usually responsible for the development of new technologies in a company, whereas the CIO has its focus more on organizational problems and tries to solve these with existing IT solution.
Next to both roles, which have been around for a while now, the role of a CDO, a chief digital officer, has emerged recently. His major responsibility lies in digitally transforming traditional businesses to digital ones. In order to do so, the CDO needs to determine the parts of the business where influencers are able to support the change and to empower these influencers. That’s why, it is especially important that the person that fills in this role is not only a digital expert but also familiar with all parts of the organization.
I hope this short summary helped you to get a better understanding of these particular roles in an organization. Please keep in mind that these are not fixed roles and every company can interpret a role differently and the roles have been changing throughout the past. If you want to read further on this topic, I recommend you to check out my sources. Also, if you are curious how people actually became CTOs, CIOs or CDOs and what jobs they did prior to that, I recommend you to just use the LinkedIn advanced search and search for these positions in the country of your choice. This works fine even if you are not a Premium user.
I wonder what your opinion is on these roles. Does every company need to have all three roles on their board? Or do you think the CDO is just an evolution from the CIO and will make this role redundant?
Penrod, James I. “The Chief Information Officer in Higher Education. Professional Paper Series,# 4.” (1990).
Synnott, William R., and William H. Gruber. Information resource management: opportunities and strategies for the 1980s. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1981.