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.

How to find and hire the right CTO for your startup?

Hire a CTO

It wasn’t that long back when top-rated companies were vying with each other to hire the best CEO. Fast forward to the present economy where technology dominates, and one in which the CTO has appeared center stage. Finding the right talent can be nothing short of an unending odyssey in a country like India. The demand for a CTO has only just become a recent phenomenon in the job market in India. And when there does seem to be an avenue of opportunity, companies and recruiting bodies hit a dead end when it comes to finding the right talent. Companies often face limitations when it comes to a dearth of experience and leadership capabilities.

Getting matched with the ideal CTO is as tough as discovering a rare pearl in an oyster. But, if you do, then there’s nothing that can hinder your Firm from shuttling towards success. There are several reasons for this of course. Thought leaders and industry experts from across the globe agree on the fact that CTOs are the connecting factor between Firms and their customers. As C-level executives in the upper echelon of a company’s organization, on par with the Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Financial Officer, the CTO is majorly responsible for spearheading a company’s innovation and technology growth story.

Every company needs a strong technological push, and for that, we need good CTOs

The CTO is primarily responsible for transforming big ideas into sound tech strategies which can be easily consumed by consumers. As the years’ progress and new and innovative technologies hit the market, so too does the role of the CTO. It’s a symbiotic relationship and needs to evolve accordingly. In today’s digital age, CTOs aren’t just tech administrators who handle the backend of a business’s functioning but are tech gurus on the front lines, envisioning and spearheading newer and improved technological processes to help write a company’s success story.

4 Steps to Hire the Best CTO

Finding the right CTO need not be a herculean task in today’s job market. We’ve listed out a 4 step approach to get the job done.

  1. Be specific and chart the company’s roadmap

Be unabashed about the role that the CTO will have to fulfill in your firm. If it’s going to be a demanding role, then you need to be honest and say so. Define the current position of your organization, where it needs to be, and why being a part of that journey can be a fulfilling experience professionally. Have a candid conversation about this when you interview potential candidates, or you can even highlight these facts in the job description. Trust us, this is the ideal hook to attract the right kind of candidates. Some of the key attributes that make for an ideal CTO is leadership capabilities. They will be managing the tech department of your company. To be able to fulfill this role, they should ideally have prior experience in a similar capacity. They need to be quick thinkers who can think on their feet and tackle situations with the best strategies. They must be able to imbibe and help actualize the vision of the company. They need to be chameleons who can adapt their role and the company’s policies, vision, and business models with new changes in innovation. Efficient use of technological resources, implementing new infrastructures to scale a company’s profit margins; these are some of the winning qualities that make for the best CTO.

  1. Sell the role

Finding a CTO is like unearthing a gem. You will face stiff competition from several companies vying for the same candidate. What you need to remember in this scenario, is to avoid selling yourself short. Work your salesman skills and wow the candidate into choosing your Firm. During the interview process list out the company’s USPs. Talk about the different opportunities and benefits that come with the job. The more perks are the better! Discuss key points like equity distribution and autonomy. Talk about all these factors and stress on what makes your company better than the rest.

3.   Cultural Fit

Being the right cultural fit is one of the most important factors that need to be clocked in when you’re looking for a CTO. Having the right technical skills is essential, but so does being able to adapt to the new company culture. This is especially important when you are recruiting a person from another country. In these matters, different factors come into play, like issues related to dialect, having the right knowledge databank to match and help expand a company’s profit margins and visibility in another country. For example, the technological requirements that a CTO needs to have in a developing economy like India may not be the same as the requirements of a company in a developed country like America. Company cultures are different, and a CTO needs to be able to fit within the same. 

    4. Map the key stakeholders-The Intersection between employers and potential employees

If you are aiming at global expansion, looking for global partnerships, M&A, and looking to scale your profits big time, then hiring the right talent will be the best decision you ever make. A key stakeholder will look for a person who is a tech genius, but who is also well versed in the business side of things. It’s also important to bear in mind during the recruitment process whether a candidate is on the same wavelength as the key stakeholders. It’s an intersection between employers and potential employees. Key stakeholders should partner the right candidates with the right role. It should be a seamless fit like a brick in the wall. You know you’ve got the hiring process done right if you manage to match the right talent to the key stakeholders’ expectations.

Finding a correct tech visionary or CTO for a startup is a Sisyphean task. Many Startups and recruiting firms are trying to fill this void by simply sending leadership profiles to the stakeholders.

But, Purple Quarter is a leading CTO search firm that focuses on Tech Head hires for Tech Product Companies across India and SE Asia. It just because of a unique concept of talent mapping and understanding behind getting close to the right people in the industry to identify their passion, motivation, mobility, compensation and Behavioural metrics.

After facilitating InMobi with it’s current CTO, Mr. Ravi Krishnaswamy, Purple Quarter went ahead and empowered companies like PharmEasy, UrbanClap, Walmart, Swiggy and Rivigo with Tech Visionaries that take the leadership of growing their business along with bringing a revolution in the technology.