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What Is a CIO?

What Is a CIO?
Credit: Konstantin Chagin/Shutterstock

As technology has evolved throughout the years, so have the roles and responsibilities of chief information officers. Today, CIOs lead organizations' IT staffs and assets and also develop strategies and computer systems.  

"[The] CIO role is essential for the business, because we cannot build a product without using technology," said Michal Abram, head of engineering at Zety. "[A] CIO must be able to link the world of technology with product development, make crucial business decisions based on unique knowledge and experience."

Here's what you need to know about a CIO's responsibilities, their importance and how to be an effective CIO.

It's easy to confuse CIOs and CTOs, but they don't have the same responsibilities, and the positions require different skill sets. CIOs are usually in charge of the organization's internal IT operations and are the top technology infrastructure manager.  

"The CIO is a business-technology leader," said Jeff Bittner, founder and president of Exit Technologies. "The CIO does not have to fully understand how the technology works, but understand what it can do and how it can impact the business."

CTO (chief technology officer) ensures a company's technology strategy aligns with its objectives and requirements. This executive is the company's top technology architect and runs the engineering group.

"The CTO is immersed in technology and has an engineering-level understanding of how the technology works and where it is headed," said Bittner.

CTOs typically report to CIOs, while CIOs report to the CEO or another C-suite executive.

As technology and business continue to intertwine, CIOs will be increasingly important. Sanjay Deo, founder and president of 24By7Security, said CIOs translate business information requirements to support the decision-making process with technology requirements.

"Technology is an enabler of most strategic initiatives; therefore, it's important to have a leader in charge of them," added Rod De Vos, CEO of Resolute Technology Solutions. "It’s a critical role both in operating a business and taking the business to the next level."   

Abram agreed, saying CIOs are significant in a company's business strategy.

Bittner believes CIOs should be great communicators and visionaries, with a strategic mindset and strong relationship-building skills. 

"Because a CIO interacts with C-level executives and other management personnel, the CIO must be able to translate in-depth technical solutions in consumable brevities the organizational member can understand," he told Business News Daily.

De Vos said CIOs manages people, processes, outsourcing arrangements, financials, governance, risk and overall strategy. "[A great CIO is] a person who is equal parts business-savvy and tech-savvy – someone who can structure and motivate a team. They need to be able to set priorities and make trade-offs."

"A CIO who is worth his or her value is a leader who can turn business opportunities or challenges into solutions enabled by technology," said De Vos. "That's where the true value of the CIO comes from."

CIOs typically have a bachelor's in computer science or a related field, an MBA, and experience in project management, IT governance and risk management. If you're interested in becoming a CIO, check out this Business News Daily guide on the career path.

Saige Driver

Saige received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Telecommunications from Ball State University. She is the social media strategist for Business.com and Business News Daily. She also writes reviews and articles about social media. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie.