CIO, CTO or both?

CIO, CTO or both?

'The 'chief operating officer of IT' is the emerging dominant usage of the term CTO. It is a powerful model.

The role of CIO emerged as the technology function became business-focused and increasingly central to the organisation's goals. While the CIO role varies a little from business to business, the core of the role is relatively clear -- identifying and delivering the IT services needed for the business to succeed.

On the other hand, the CTO title is probably the most diverse technology-related role, in terms of what scope the title is used to cover. This can be confusing for CEOs, boards of directors and external stakeholders (such as service providers) looking to understand what the CTO does.The recent decision by National Australia Bank (parent company of Bank of New Zealand) to split the CIO role into a more 'technical' position and a more 'business' focused one prompted a number of Gartner clients to ask me if this is a good idea. The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) made a similar move following the retirement of Ann Steward at the end of last year.This "chief operating officer of IT" role is the emerging dominant usage of the term CTO in general businesses. It is a powerful model, freeing up the CIO to be more outward-facing, shaping demand and driving digital business strategy.Gartner has identified six common roles that the CTO title is used for. The first two apply mainly to technology vendors and service providers.Which of the following 'flavours' of CTO role your enterprise employs should depend on the needs of the enterprise and the IT organisation, although in reality, it often depends on legacy or tradition.1) CTO = Chief Operational Technology OfficerIn industries where technology is a key part of the company's product or delivery of the product, CTO is often used to mean the person in charge of that technology -- sometimes called operational technology (OT). Telecom is a clear example of this -- where often the CTO is in charge of the telecom network, and the CIO is in charge of internal IT.2) CTO = Chief ScientistIn an R&D-intensive high-technology company such as a software company, the CTO may be the person inventing and designing the product. This version of a CTO role tends to have little or nothing to do with the internal IT of a company -- there is often a weak or non-existent relationship between the roles.3) CTO = Chief Operating Officer of ITIn all businesses (not only high-tech ones), this version of the CTO role is responsible for the day-to-day running of IT, reporting in to the CIO and freeing up the CIO to be more of a "CEO of IT." The proportion of public and private sector enterprises employing this CIO-CTO pairing has been steadily increasing. In the vast majority of cases, this CTO role reports directly in to the CIO. Where that doesn't happen, this can create tremendous confusion and tensions.4) CTO = Chief IT R&D OfficerApplicable to all businesses where technology is not the main product or service, this version of the CTO has the most limited scope. They are responsible for knowing about relevant technologies, possibly running experiments, defining technology standards for the company and managing relationships with sources of insight and innovation, such as universities and analyst firms.5) CTO = Über-ArchitectHere the CTO is responsible for the governance of key technology decisions, technical architecture decisions and setting of standards. It may extend beyond technical architecture to the whole of enterprise architecture (EA). This role would typically be interchangeable with a chief architect title.6) CTO = Head of the Office of the CIOThis CTO heads up the office of the CIO. They are not responsible for the core run-the-business or grow-and-transform the business IT, just the transversal functions, which typically includes architecture, governance, IT finance, IT HR, IT procurement, IT risk and security, and, possibly, the running of the IT project and program management office.The most important thing is that, if the term "CTO" is used in your business, it is clear to all internal and external stakeholders what it means in your business. Linda Price is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to


Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags IT managementCIO roleGartner

More about Bank of New ZealandGartnerNational Australia BankTechnology

Show Comments