Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is the difference between a CIO and an IT Director?

At a recent consulting meeting a CEO asked me “why doesn’t my IT department work well with the rest of the organization?” Before I could answer, he asked another more telling question: “what’s the difference between an IT director and a Chief Information Officer?” The answer to the first question was embedded in the need to ask the second question. If you don’t know the difference, you don’t understand the value of a CIO.

So what is the difference? A Director of IT focuses primarily on technology. A Chief Information Officer focuses on people, processes, projects, and technology as a holistic system designed to achieve the mutual interests of the entire organization.

The Director may engage people, processes, and projects to move technology forward, but only to the extent that these elements support technology initiatives. For the Director, it is all about the technology first, and everything else is secondary. This perspective leads the IT director to confuse the tool (technology) with the product of the tool. When the IT department values the tool more than the purpose of the tool, its values become misaligned with the values of the overall organization.

A CIO is part of the DNA of the entire organization, not just the techie side of it. A CIO is deeply engaged in the core mission of the organization where technology is viewed as a means to an end. The objective of the CIO is to achieve the goals of the organization. To a CIO, the technology is part of a bigger mechanism that works as an integrated machine to achieve the mission and vision of the whole organization. The only way to achieve such ambition is to integrate people, processes, projects, and technology from across the organization into a seamless system. Boundaries among delivery groups become irrelevant as the CIO works closely with every partner and stakeholder in the organization to achieve the broader mission.

My answer to the CEO’s first question: your IT department does not work well with the rest of your organization because you have an IT director, not a CIO.



  1. Agreed. I'll go one step further in your multi-part definition of the CIO: s/he is focused on the enterprise's information (value obtained from it, intensity of use, quality of it [regardless of whether it's internal or external], ease of use). In effect, they treat the word in their title seriously.

    People, process, projects and technology are integrated to produce better information results.

  2. Good point Bruce. The CIO concentrates the entire spectrum of holistic system resources on the value-added delivery of improved information.

  3. Agreed, but to be more specific, as a Director of IT, you focus more on business objectives (ROI, Cost and quality); translated into IT requirements. The Director ought to run the IT Division "like" it were a business on its own, maximizing and optimizing the return on all IT Infrastructure (software and hardware) for the business.
    In doing so, sharing all IT infrastructure with all known stakeholders both in, and out, of the business - which naturally begins to rope in issues around security, governance, processes, skills, environment, budget and others...

  4. Great post. It's interesting how the role of Chief Information Officer has really emerged as a vital position within companies. A great CIO can really shape an organization's strategy and workflow.


    - Gary
    AlphaPoint Technology

  5. Making a good impression on the business can make the difference in how easily IT gets budget items approved, how well favors are called in, and how smoothly IT staffers and management works with their line-of-business counterparts.

  6. A CIO is in a publicly traded company, whereas an IT Director fulfills the same duties in a privately held company. Simple as that my friend. Both should be responsible for the IT side of business-IT alignment.

    1. Last Anonymous... not even remotely true.

    2. Many privately held companies have CIOs. The difference is in the depth and breadth of expectations for the roles of CIO's vs. Directors, not in the private vs. public nature of the organization.

  7. I've been in IT sales for 8 years, and after talking to HUNDREDS of them I can say there is no difference. It's an egotistical thing is all. The term 'CIO' is just a more fancy prestigious term typically found within larger companies. They both have identical responsibilities.

  8. Nice post on Management.This will be helpfull for My PMP Certification

  9. A perfect summary. Thanks Mark