CIO vs CTO: A Look At How These Roles Contrast And Complement Each Other


The line between business and technology is increasingly becoming blurred. Digital Innovation and adoption has left no other choice. In this evolving landscape, the roles of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a company and a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) have changed too. 

We need to take a closer look at how this new environment has given more power to these two highly sought after profiles. 

CTOs Have A Bigger Role To Play Than Ever Before

If the proposition that “Technology is King” is true for an organization, then it is safe to say that a CTO is the Kingmaker. The fact that this position was a fringe one about 10 years back is a testament to the fact that businesses today have changed how they work completely. The role of CTO has become such a key for an organization that even the White House appointed its very first CTO, Aneesh Chopra in 2009.

In most companies, a CTO is running an engineering team while also keeping the customer, end product and revenue growth in focus. Apart from that, they have a key role in a technical evangelist to play. 

CIOs Are No Longer At The Backseat

The roles of the Chief Information Officer and Chief Innovation Officer have merged. Traditionally speaking, the role of a CIO would be to compile and interpret data on corporate technology. Once the gathered data becomes relevant information, the CIO would implement procedures on strategic planning, operational efficiency and more. If we have to draw a strawman, a CIO would be a person who takes a backseat when it comes to running the business.

However, that’s not the case now. Catalyzed by the fact that businesses need to grow and adapt at a faster rate than ever before, a Chief Information Officer has engulfed the responsibilities of the internal role of a Chief Innovation Officer. Now, not only do CIOs have to change and evolve their own skills/ideas at every turn, but they also have to make sure their organization is evolving too. 

The contrast between the roles of CIO and CTO

One of the biggest differences between these two profiles is that a CIO generally plays a more introspective role within the company whereas a CTO would look externally. When a CIO will be looking at the day-to-day operations, a CTO would be looking at the customer’s needs. In larger organizations, it would be safe to say that the CIO manages IT infrastructure and the CTO manages the business’s technology architecture. However, when resources are unavailable, a CTO generally would take over the responsibilities of a CIO. 

Coming to the skill requirements, the technical knowledge of the CTO should be off the charts in multiple domains. If you are building one of the world’s best tech companies, you should ideally have one of the world’s best CTOs. However, a CIO doesn’t need to be too tech-savvy. CIOs need to possess organizational skills, managerial skills. It is often the case that CIOs are chosen to be employees with experience within the company while it is common to hire a CTO externally.

Understanding The CEO-CTO Relationship

CEO - CTO Relationship

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the most senior officer who oversees the overall operations of an organization to ensure the successful management of the business. A CTO (Chief Technology Officer), on the other hand, is a senior executive whose role is to focus on an organization’s technical mission and technological requirements to help it grow externally.

In simple words, a CEO leads an organization, whereas a CTO leads the organization’s technical staff. Since both CEO and CTO bear a lot of responsibilities, the relationship between CEO and CTO is something clients and employees look forward to in any organization.

The success of an organization depends not only on the healthy relationship between the subordinates but also on the rapport that top-level executives share among themselves. The CEO and CTO of an organization are equally responsible for taking their products and services to the next level; thus, they should work in partnership to take the organization to new levels of success in the long run. Therefore, if you want your business to prosper, you should hire a CTO who understands your business thoroughly.

Importance of hiring the right CTO

In recent times, the position of CTO is the most in-demand, and also the most difficult position to fill. A perfect CEO-CTO relationship benefits an organization in the following ways :

* The culture and structure of the organization changes for better;

* All the departments start getting fruitful results;

* Customers get satisfied with the quality of products and services delivered by the organization

How to foster a healthy CEO-CTO relationship?

Understand each other’s role: The CEO and the CTO of a company should be aware of each other’s strengths. Both should genuinely respect each other’s roles, responsibilities, and capabilities.

Foster the spirit of cooperation: A CEO should understand the objectives that the CTO has to accomplish. Similarly, a CTO should be aware of the CEO’s goals, and the hindrances they need to overcome together. CTOs should not limit themselves to the technical aspects of a company, but also add value to marketing, finance, and all other aspects that the CEO handles. For example, the CEO is generally not aware of when and how to indulge with new clients, but the CTO should know how to handle this situation adeptly.

Encourage a smooth flow of communication: A CEO and his CTO should have each other’s backs. There should be no room for any communication gap between them; and even if there are any, an efficient CTO is expected to fill the gap.

Company leaders have to deal with lots of complexities for growth; that’s when a CTO and CEO should work collectively to gain multiple benefits. To avoid a panic situation, CEOs should hire CTOs who understand how the organization functions, and let the relationship between the CEO and CTO flourish. If a CTO or CEO unknowingly messes up, instead of blaming each other, they should work alongside, and take the bullet for each other when any one of them messes up.

A CTO can become one of the biggest assets of an organization, only if he/she works collaboratively with the CEO. To this end, the CEO should value the CTO’s contribution and provide them with ample opportunities and freedom to grow intellectually without second-guessing them; similarly, the CTO should work closely with the CEO to steer the organization in the right direction.

From CTO to Chief Transformative Officer[CTO]

CTO to Chief Transformative officer


The Indian banking sector is one of the fastest adopters of technology today. Quite naturally, CTOs became a necessity to hire for banks long ago. In alliance with the express tech-driven changes, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) from 2017 started urging the banks to appoint qualified chiefs to head the critical finance and technology functions.

CTOs in the banking sector is now considered as chief transformation officers, and this shift requires them to stretch beyond the tasks of monitoring technology performance, bringing reliability, and managing a lean operation. They are now donning multiple hats – upkeep Risk Governance and moving away from a support role to Strategic Partnership role and playing a pivotal role in incubating new business lines and reinventing/innovating business processes for the banks.

In short, the CTO has moved to the top of the table in the process of reinvention for the banking sector.

Unforeseen challenges

In 2018 alone, $112 billion was pumped into innovative companies that pursue technological innovation in the banking sector. The BFSI sector revolves around building more customer-centric products. The CTO thus faces several challenges while digitally transforming the banks and making them more customer-centric.

Below are the two critical challenges that every CTO must tackle.

Regulatory: – Navigating through regulations in terms of data and government policies in Indian & South East Asian markets can be a bit blurry and challenging because these policies and regulations are not well defined and are still at their nascence stage. It is important for a CTO to create a balance between driving disruption by offering more data-centric customized products while following regulatory compliances.

Digital Transformation: – Banks have been operating and offering products under a Set guideline for years. The focus is shifting to Class banking, even in mass banking, with the introduction of value-added and customized products. The focus has changed from running a manpower heavy operation to a tech-heavy operation. The branches are run on the concept of 24X7 working, made possible through the use of telebanking, ATMs, internet banking, mobile banking, and e-banking. It is challenging for a CTO to strike the balance and drive the transformation, without disrupting the daily cycle.

It’s also the right time for the CTOs to focus on industry collaborations at a time when nimble fintechs are disrupting the market.

Fintech companies are often at the forefront of creating new products, interfaces, and delivery channels. They are leveraging all available technologies to reach out to customers which were inaccessible earlier. I think it’s important that CTOs who have been in the industry for long should keep their eyes out for the innovators and haunch early strategic partnership to leverage their strengths in taking their organization forward.

Mechanics to evaluate which technologist fits in which era?

Being a tech startup, the challenges are formidable and sometimes difficult to get through. These startups are overwhelmingly dependent on their technology leadership for their success. As a culmination, the absence of high-quality leadership can seriously constrain their strategic planning and execution, plunging them on a descending winding.

According to data from Tracxn, 277 new businesses shut down in 2017 alone, while a corresponding Nasscom report uncovered that 55per cent of the new companies who broke down; had raised external funding. We, therefore, believe that funding or lack of it is perhaps a lesser determinant acumen for a technology startup’s continued growth than the quality of its technology and its leadership team. We also believe, when a startup scales the need for technologists modifies with the current stage of the organization. Have you ever thought, why the different stages of a startup require technologists with different capabilities?

Role of Lord Brahma

A startup is just like this mighty world created by Brahma, the creator. At this infant stage of a tech-enabled company, you might need a technologist in the form of Brahma, a technologist who can create. A CTO needs to act like a Creator while the startup is still incipient. At this stage, the product-market fit has not completely advanced, and the organization is small enough to rally around the improvement of the core product or service.

Typically, the founder wears the job of a CTO at this stage, and their accentuation is on ‘creation’ – developing the item alpha and beta with the support from a core technologist team. The essential authoritative structures are prominently missing; and typically, they are not by any means required at this stage.

Role of Lord Vishnu

A startup traverses to the second stage when it has demonstrated its product-market fit and has raised the expected assets to develop its scale. The CTO’s role and responsibilities at this stage of a startup are that of a Nurturer: the tech leader needs to nurture and scale the tech team by enlisting or hiring an ever-bigger number of engineers, developers, and other individuals. The role which the Cosmic nurturer i.e. Vishnu plays is quite similar to a CTO at the second stage of a startup. Both of them nurture the creations with their supreme powers of insights and management.

As the organization builds up its operations, it begins to manifest a need for necessary systems and processes in place. The Nurturer CTO, therefore, needs to make sure that development carries on like a well-oiled machine. Their critical focus is now on people and project management skills.

Role of Lord Mahesh

The third stage startup has matured with a large-scale team and operations. The CTO’s role now shifts to that of an Unlearner: all existing systems and processes that have served the organization so well in the past stage are no longer sufficient to carry it forward as the business strives to penetrate deeper into the market and has to fend off competition. Isn’t it very similar to the role of the third but the most important Hindu cosmology God Shiva or Mahesh? Mahesh who acts as a destroyer to destroy the old monotonous ways of the civilizations and then supports the ecosystem in creating a whole new set of rules in order to run this mighty universe.

Equivalent to the role of “Mahesh” in Hindu Cosmology, the CTO now needs to destroy and dismantle the old ways of working and inject new thinking and energy into the technology team. The person needs to hire senior-level managers who come with their own baggage and internalized processes from their previous organizations. The task now is to reorient and regroup the technology team and provide them with a new direction that addresses the new challenges the business is focusing.

Tech startups often lag behind in this competitive market because they struggle to successfully navigate the transition from the first stage to the second, or from second to the third. To a large extent, the responsibility for flawless transition rests on technology leadership. Tech Leadership acts as the strongest weapon for any tech-enabled startup or growing organization.  In other words, the CTO with the right skills or lack thereof can make or break a startup’s milestone transitions from its birth to maturity. While the choice is clear for nascent and small startups; mature startups need to painstakingly assess the decision between having a visionary or a technocrat as their CTO. A mismatch could set the growth of business back by months, if not years – something that a startup can ill afford.