Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) are executive-level positions which are highly sought-after. This is especially true within bigger organisations that require in-depth management of their technology strategies and systems. Although both those roles may seem similar, there are a few key differences when it comes to their job description and skill requirements.

What is a CTO?

CTO professionals focus on making sure the company's use of technology aligns with its overall strategy to effectively improve performance and customer experience. They are usually the highest-level IT professional within a company and work closely with engineers and developers to keep software and network systems optimised at all times. Also they need to remain competitive within their given industry and keep up with the latest technology trends.

What is a CIO?

In contrast, CIO professionals are senior tech leaders who are both business and technically savvy. They are the key person in the organisation responsible for setting IT strategy, vision, and governance, whilst consistently looking for ways to improve internal business processes and efficiencies. They do not just need technical capabilities, but instead need to have an all-encompassing ability to drive the team to deliver business goals.  They usually work closely with vendors and service providers to find the best streamlined solutions to use within the company. As mentioned by Michael Page Director – Michelle J. Ma, “CIOs are usually the number one position within the company who reports directly to the CEO or Managing Director, or potentially the COO or CFO. These individuals tend to be more strategic, in comparison with CTOs who are normally more tech-oriented. Some companies may use CIOs and CTOs interchangeably, although it is more common for companies to have both roles present unless they have huge IT team and in a global organization.”  

CTO/CIO job description & duties - What do these roles do?

CTOs and CIOs possess many similarities, and both roles are very important for any business to keep their technology operations running smoothly.
As a CTO is responsible for external experiences and improving the brand's service or products, some of their job responsibilities might include:

  • Developing the company's technology strategy in order to achieve business goals
  • Identifying and implementing new technologies and resources to increase competitiveness within the market
  • Overseeing and managing technology KPIs and budgets
  • Maintaining technological operations to ensure their efficiency, reliability, and security
  • Undergoing customer relations liaison and communicating with external customers to get a better understanding of evolving market trends

A CIO will be looking at the overall technology strategies of a company, focusing on ways to improve business processes to achieve maximum profitability. Their job description may include:

  • Managing all aspects of a company's technology scope, with an emphasis on driving different types of transformation throughout the business 
  • Sourcing cost-effective and innovative technologies which improve and streamline performance
  • Working closely with the information technology department to achieve business objectives
  • Collaborating with vendors and internet service providers to enhance the company's technology resources and computer systems

What qualities are needed to be a successful CTO/CIO? 

Both these job roles require a similar set of qualities in order to succeed. Because of the high level of responsibility taken on, individuals aiming to become a CTO or CIO should be confident and possess good leadership qualities to manage relevant teams.

These roles are also best filled by good communicators, given their frequent collaboration with different departments, stakeholders, and external partners to ensure thorough understanding of technological concepts across the board.
In addition to having good communication and leadership skills, having solid knowledge of technological trends and staying on top of the latest emerging technologies is crucial. These individuals should also possess strong business skills, such as strategic thinking, organisation, and excellent problem-solving capabilities. 

What technical skills are needed to become a CTO/CIO?

The nature of CTO and CIO jobs requires a particular set of technical skills and a background in IT. Most job descriptions will indicate the need to possess a good understanding of infrastructure, software development, cloud computing, cybersecurity procedures, and different programming languages to correctly ensure the best possible implementation of technology solutions. Data analysis and management are also necessary skills to come up with data-based business solutions.  

Because technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, it will also be helpful for CTOs and CIOs to stay updated on all the latest industry developments, especially artificial intelligence and machine learning. These knowledge may be the key to unlock better business operation opportunities and customer experiences.

What qualifications or certifications are needed to become a CTO/CIO?

CTOs and CIOs require at least a bachelor's degree in a related field such as Computer Science, Engineering, Information Technology, or so on. They can also benefit from obtaining an advanced degree in Business Administration, Business Management, or any of the aforementioned fields.

Several industry-specific certifications may increase one's chances of becoming a CTO or CIO. These include the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification, Program Management Professional (PMP) certification, the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification, apart from the above mentioned, certificates related to cloud technologies will be wanted nowadays.  

Career development - what is the next step for CTO/CIO professionals?

CTOs usually come from two different types of backgrounds – either a very robust infrastructure engineering background or a solid software architect background, which both contribute to these professionals being more comfortable in hands-on leadership roles. As such, with their vast technical expertise and strong backgrounds, CTO professionals could potentially move into the higher role of a CIO as the next step in their career ladder and experience a more strategy-oriented position. It is also important to note that depending on the type of company, a CTO can also be the most senior tech person within that organisation. This is typically true for product or service-based software houses or tech firms. 

As a CIO is already the ultimate goal within a company, it may be more prudent to outline how to get to this stage. Individuals who succeed as a CIO will normally have a strong background in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Business Analytics (BA), or had all-round large-scale IT management experience throughout their career.  

Most companies will expect at least 10-15 years of relevant experience before they consider candidates for a CTO position.   As CIOs require a higher level of expertise, they are usually expected to have at least 15-18 years of experience before being considered for this role.

CTO vs CIO - What are the differences?

The main difference between CTO and CIO job roles is that the former focus on the external outcomes whilst the latter refines the overall internal processes. CTOs will focus more on purely the tech side of things, meanwhile the CIO finds the best practices and strategies for business transformation as a whole. 

As CTO and CIO roles still are very similar and both contribute to the technological strategies and functions within an organisation to succeed, it is likely they will work closely together.

Salary & remuneration - How much does a CTO/CIO make?

The high-ranking positions of Chief Technology Officers and Chief Information Officers can expect a very positive job outlook and salary, especially if they belong to larger companies. These professionals can also expect to enjoy various benefits and compensation as part of their salary package. Also look into to our latest Taiwan salary guide for different IT professions along the career path toward CTO/CIO.

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