What is the Difference between a CIO, CTO, and a vCIO?

As a whole, the entire tech industry is rife with acronyms: HTTPS, SMTP, PHP, NOC & SOC…

You get the idea. So, if you’re a decision maker who is looking for someone to help you wade through this veritable sea of tech-acronyms, you might have run into a bit of a roadblock: deciphering the difference between a CIO, CTO, and vCIO.

And that is exactly what we will answer in this blog — to help you discover which of these three titles will best fit your organization.

WHAT IS A CIO?

This C-suite executive position refers to a Chief Information Officer. CIOs are usually responsible for the structure and organization of their company’s IT (information technology) department. While CIOs can be the manager of such a department, direct management of projects and teams usually falls to the shoulders of an IT Director.

CIOs, like most C-suite executives, focus on goals, rather than projects. A CIO’s primary responsibility is to identify the future IT needs of their company, and then come up with a plan of how to best implement those solutions.

A good CIO will ensure that their team is receiving constant support in the form of continued education — the only way an IT department can remain useful is by learning the new forms of hardware and software available to them. A great CIO will ensure they themselves participate in these educational opportunities, so they can always lead their team with the most recent advancements in tech influencing their decisions.

Another responsibility of a CIO is to ensure the money spent on technology is meaningfully used and not wasted on dead-end projects. CIOs have the capability to save businesses significant amounts of capital on hardware that is incongruent with their software, or the implementation of software that lacks the functionality their company requires.

WHAT IS A CTO?

Another C-suite executive position, referring to Chief Technology Officer. Truthfully, CTOs are virtually indistinguishable from CIOs. Just like a CIO, a CTO is responsible for the future growth of a business’ technology needs, and finding the best path for that technology’s implementation.

In large corporations, there is the chance that both a CIO and CTO will both be on payroll — so if they both fit the same role, why is the reason for this redundancy?

There are two main reasons; first, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion, and second, a CIO and CTO can focus on two different aspects of a business’ technology.

Primarily in organizations with both a CIO and CTO in their employ, the CIO will focus on data and software, while the CTO will focus on hardware and security. This level of specialization is only needed, however, for the largest of corporations. For many small-to-medium sized businesses, this splitting of responsibilities will never be necessary.

WHAT IS A vCIO?

So, if a CIO and a CTO are largely the same position, does that mean a vCIO is essentially a CIO?

Yes.

A vCIO refers to a virtual CIO. The simplest way to imagine how a vCIO works is to look at a subscription model such as Netflix:

  1. You pay a monthly fee to access a service remote from your organization
  2. You are guaranteed a certain number of consultative hours before any up-charge
  3. You can access this service from anywhere in the world

Essentially, there is no difference between a vCIO and a standard CIO, other than cost. Even if there are no big technology projects to implement, if you have a CIO on your payroll, their salary must be paid. Like any C-suite executive, a position like this does not come cheap.

A vCIO, on the other hand, gives you access to a CIO without the associated cost. Companies that use the service of a vCIO and MITS team can remotely consult whenever is necessary, and most vCIO services offer quarterly, in person reviews.

This allows your business to gain the benefit of a CIO without the burden on your expenses. A vCIO service will cost a fraction of the yearly salary of a standard CIO, because you only pay for a certain number of hours every month. Just like the thousands of movies and shows on Netflix are available for the price of one movie ticket per month, so too are a vCIO’s services available for a fraction of the cost of a CIO’s yearly salary.

Of course, if there is a big project, your business can always utilize a vCIO’s services heavily one month, and then light the next. This flexibility gives small and medium businesses the opportunity to truly plan their technology endeavors, without breaking the bank.

If you’d like to learn more about what a vCIO does, watch our video, Does My Organization Need a vCIO?

Jeff Blount
Jeff Blount is a vCIO for Cobb Technologies with over 14 years of experience in the tech industry, and before Cobb, worked in AEC and eCommerce. With Cobb since 2011, Jeff helps our Managed IT partners manage and grow their digital systems. When not finding solutions for SMB and enterprise level businesses, Jeff can be found out on the soccer field with his family.