CIO vs IT Director: How Are They Different?

CIO vs IT Director: How Are They Different?

Before penning this article featuring ‘CIO vs IT Director,’ I wrote ‘CTO vs CIO: What’s the Difference?’ In that article, we learn the Chief Technology Officer builds technology while the Chief Information Officer buys technology. Below, we tackle a similar topic using a new title: IT Director and compare it with the Chief Information Officer.

In looking at the CIO vs IT Director, we on the technology purchased by a company and not developed. A CTO or the VP of Engineering will oversee software development, not an area commonly managed by an IT Director. In looking at why a company would choose an IT Director or a CIO, we must first answer some questions.

CIO vs IT Director: How They Differ

The following questions can help us decide whether your organization needs a CIO or IT Director.

  1. Does the company see technology as an investment or a cost-center?
  2. Are technology decisions made at the Enterprise-level or Department-level?
  3. Does the company see the head of technology as a Corporate Leader or a Department Manager?

Reason 1: Investment vs Cost-center

By reviewing the organization’s DNA, we can determine the correct title for the technology leader by reviewing their technology decisions. If we see the company has historically invested in technology seeking a competitive advantage, we’ll often see a CIO. If however, the company views technology as a cost-center needing managed and minimized, then we’ll see an IT Director.

For companies that see technology as an investment, they often complimented the CIO with a CTO or VP of Engineering. If the company doesn’t develop software, we’re likely to see an IT Director. As we discussed in ‘CTO vs CIO: What’s the Difference?’, a CTO and CIO complement each other. The CTO leads the company’s software development efforts while the CIO leads the company’s technology purchasing.

Unlike a CTO, the CIO and IT Director are both involved in purchasing and deploying technology for the company. Let’s look at how those decisions are made, either at the enterprise-level or the department-level.

Reason #2: Enterprise vs Department

Within a company, decisions need to be made. For some companies, they make technology decisions at the enterprise-level while others make them at the department-level.

If historically the departments make technology decisions, we often see an IT Director and not a CIO. This is because technology decisions are department dependent and independent of the other departments. It doesn’t mean that another department won’t benefit from the technology. It just means the technology originated within 1 department and then spread organically to other departments later.

When an organization has a CIO, the technology decisions are centralized at the senior leadership level and implemented cross-department. A CIO will be a member of the senior leadership team. There, they play a role in planning the technology-use across the organization. A department may still submit technology requests but the CIO often will make the final approval.

In discussing strategy, this brings us to the third reason for an IT Director or a CIO. Whether the technology leader leads or manages technology.

Reason #3: Leader vs Manager

Ask yourself do you consider the head of technology to be a corporate leader or a department manager? As the technology leader, the CIO will often take a firm, even political, stand when it comes to technology. This is because the CEO and Board have charged the CIO with aligning technology with the corporate mission.

In other organizations, IT is a department supports the technology needs of other departments. Their role is to help manage the companies technology resources, not lead it. The IT Director will also commonly not serve on the senior leadership team. The IT Director, also, will not report to the CEO except at smaller organizations. The company will consider the IT Director as a manager and not a corporate leader.

The More, The Merrier

In some organizations, a company will have either a CIO or an IT Director. But, there are some organizations large enough to have both. When this occurs, the CIO’s responsibility is to oversee the strategy for the organization. From there, the IT Director will help the CIO implement the tactical roll-out of those strategic decisions. In this case, you can think of the IT Director much like a Chief of Staff for the CIO.

The IT Director will report to the CIO and oversee the internal operations. The CIO will negotiate with vendors, coordinates with leaders and more.

CIO vs IT Director: Summary

The decision for whether the company has a CIO or IT Director comes down to strategy vs tactics. To determine this, we can ask ourselves a series of questions.

  • Will the head of technology report to the CEO?
  • Will they interact with the Board of Directors or participate in Board meetings?
  • Can they speak on behalf of the company? Confide with shareholders the technical strategy or interact with the media?
  • Will the head of technology be a member of the organization’s Senior Leadership Team?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you will want to hire a CIO. If you answered no to these questions, an IT Director would be a better fit.

Have Questions or Feedback?

Having advised companies on hiring a CIO vs IT Director, we’re ready to help you navigate this decision. Connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn and let me know how we can help.

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