Technology titles: CTO, CIO, CSO, DPO which one are you?

Technology titles vary from business to business and country to country but which title most appropriately suits your role.

This article examines the general focus areas of the roles tries to help you understand where you fit in your business.

Thomas Jefferson the 3rd president of America said “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

However business can’t just provide free reign so titles are required.

Often the titles are interchangeable but duties and responsibilities help to focus the choice.

  • Titles
  • Technology Titles
  • Wrap Up


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Organograms and Contracts

An organogram is a diagram which shows the internal structure of a company.  It helps show who reports to who and can greatly help in defining the scope of responsibility.

Your contract of employment spells out what your title is.  You can call yourself “king of the world” but your contract of employment spells out your job title.

Delineation defines the action of describing or portraying something precisely.

Within any business of any size there is the concept of departments and as a result the departments shape the focus of the roles like branches in a tree.


Over time and as a business grows delineation often becomes a challenge.

When there is only one person in the business, they’re responsible for everything.  Yet over time the focus becomes more and more narrow as the work load increases.

There are only so many hours in the day consequently focus is key.  Sense checking your role and your business helps delineation.



Business defines department as a “division of a large organization such as a government, university, or business, dealing with a specific area of activity”.

Technology titles can be specific to a department or be cross departmental.

The strongest definition when helping a business is to look at the financial divisions within the company.

This provides a stronger delineation.  Departments within a company organise around a number of different parameters – such as:

  • Their specific function
  • By Products
  • Through customers
  • Geographic locations
  • Or by processes

The financial focus helps target efficiencies, productivity and set budgets.

How your role should be titled requires clear delineation of departments.  Also depending on how your business is structured, technology titles may span multiple departments.



Directors and Shareholders

Business 101.  There are three main groups. Shareholders, Directors and Corporate Officers.

A company is a legal entity.  It is made up of shares which form 100% ownership.

The owners of the company are the board and they have different percentages of ownership on how many shares they have.  These are the shareholders.


The shareholders decide on a team to drive the business, called the Board of Directors.  This is officially listed in a document called “the article of incorporation” and / or bylaws.

A director is legally responsible for the behaviour of the business.  The directors are typically elected at the annual general meeting by the shareholders.


Corporate Officers

The Board of Directors appoints Corporate Officers to deliver the business on a day to day basis.  Corporate officers are given legal authority to act on behalf of the business.

A C-Level role has the title Chief or the word Officer in it.  Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer, Data Protection Officer, etc.

The operations are delivered by managers where management will report to the Chief.  The staff or employees deliver the work report to managers.


In a one person businesses a person can be shareholder, director, chief, manager and employee.

The delineation exists but isn’t recognised as one person is doing everything consequently gaps only appear as the company gets bigger.

It also possible for a person to hold two Chief Roles or a Chief and Manager role if the business is small enough but a person elects to hold only one title at a time.

As a business grows and the duties split new chief roles become clear and delineated.

For this reason technology titles have evolved due to the diversity of the area in modern business.


General Officers

As a business is a legal entity there are legal tasks that need to be done.

Legal registration of the business, filing taxes and compliance with laws and regulations have to be done by every business so there are standard roles to ensure these bases are covered.


Most businesses will have, if not in title, in delivery of work.

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or President. The CEO is ultimately responsibility for everything.  They sign off contracts and other legally-binding actions on behalf of the business. The CEO reports to the board and often the CEO is on the board especially of new businesses.
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO).  Takes on the duties for managing the business’ day-to-day affairs reporting to the CEO.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or Treasurer. The CFO is accountable (directly or indirectly) for just about all financial matters.
  • Secretary. The Secretary maintains and keeps the business’ records, documents, and “minutes” from shareholder and board meetings.

Everything after this optional to the business.


Technology Titles

What’s in a name?

Most people have heard of the three age system. (Rough dates) The Stone Age (9500-3500BC), Bronze Age (3000-1000BC) and the Iron Age (1000BC-600BC).

Since then other ages have emerged such as the Industrial Age (1760 – 1820/40 AD).

As of 2018 we are in the Information Age also known as the Computer Age, Digital Age, or New Media Age.  An age which moved from the industrial revolution to an economy based on Information Technology (IT).


With new technology and capabilities comes new job titles.  One article lists over 85 different IT related titles not including technology specific titles.

What a job title does is try to help people delineate the general focus of the role but the contract of employment will spell out the specifics of the role.

So in this changing era of jobs, titles and capabilities let’s try set some focii.

I do not expect everyone to agree with these approaches as there are many different opinions publicly available on the titles.  These are my opinions based on operational experience.


CIO, Chief Information Officer

The “why” person of technology titles.

The public face for the business of everything IT related, the CIO looks outward from the business.

The CIO takes the company strategy and then works out how the business’ IT helps to deliver those goals.

Aware of industry trends, changes, customer and legal demands the CIO brings the winds of change into the business.


The CIO reports to the CEO.

The CIO’s duties

  • Firstly develop an overall IT strategy including how technology impacts the business.
  • Grow the business using IT.
  • Work with the CTO to put appropriate IT solutions and timelines in place.
  • Create and communicate a technology strategy the whole business can understand.
  • Watching external industry change and managing its integration into the business including threats and opportunities.
  • Consequently the CIO is the bridge between operations and IT.
  • Primary Skills:  Communication, IT and Strategy.


CPO, Chief Product Officer / CIO, Chief Innovation Officer / Product Manager

The “what” person of technology titles.  As the business grows where the CIO now has too much on their plate, a CPO emerges.

Especially in business where the product being sold is technical in nature, a CPO focuses just on the products.

The CPO draws from a CIO the responsibility for the strategic growth of the product.

The CPO like the CIO is strategic in focus and will set out roadmaps for the future of the product and setting milestones in conjunction with the CTO.


Reporting to the CIO, the CPO also works with the CTO and CIO.  Where no CIO exists a CPO reports to the CEO.

The CPO’s duties

  • Firstly develop an overall product strategy.
  • Develop the product road map.
  • Also work with the CTO to deliver products and services at agreed intervals.
  • Watch external industry change and manage its integration into the business including threats and opportunities.
  • Focus on customers and metrics to ensure the positioning and innovation of the roadmap.
  • Primary Skills: Strategy, Communication and Organisation.


CDO, Chief Data Officer and CAO, Chief Analytics Officer

The “who” person of technology titles.  In businesses where there is a high volume of sales and marketing there is a lot of data to process.

Due to Business to Consumer (B2C) models it is possible to have millions of transactions per day.

Consequently helping the CPO get around to all the data a focus on turning information into an asset and keeping an eye on business wide governance is where the CDO kicks in.

Data science skills are required for the role.  As a result this position requires abilities in Data Mining, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and OLine Analytics and Processing (OLAP).

Employees in this area are often called Data Scientists or Information Architects.

The CDO brings “actionable insights” to the business.  This also includes the financial considerations such as Return on Investment (ROI) and Impact statements.


Reporting to the CPO if there is one, if not the CIO, if not the CEO.  This is a fast emerging position especially during the information age as everything is new.

The CDO’s duties

  • Firstly maintain and develop the company’s data warehouse.
  • As a result deliver data mining and reporting on the business.
  • Create an actionable insights report for the board of directors including ROI / Impact.
  • Obtain from and work with external data suppliers to expand insights.
  • Primary Skills: Data Analysis, Communication and Research.


CTO, Chief Technology Officer

The “how” person of technology titles charged with the strategic approach to development and delivery.  Above all putting the T in IT.

An internally focused leader who works out how to get IT to serve the needs of the business.  Furthermore the CTO solves short, medium and long term challenges.

Unlike an IT Manager, the CTO integrates strategy into operations rather than just delivering a task list currently in hand.

CTOs and CIOs work together to ensure all parts of the IT strategy are accounted for and the overall business strategy is met.

CTO acts as the top engineer (software) and technician (hardware), within your business furthermore determining how the team will use technology to improve products and services.

Tactically, this work includes cost-benefit and return-on-investment analyses to figure out which platforms and solutions have the best chance of paying off.


The CTO reports to the CIO and CEO if no CIO is in place.  Similarly like any C-Level officer they are given legal authority to act on behalf of the business.

The CTO’s duties

  • Firstly and primarily be the business-wide face of the IT department.
  • Build and enhance the technology the company sells.
  • Optimise delivery of all business processes.
  • Furthermore provide necessary domain knowledge and expertise to their teams.
  • Match technology and business priorities including building the business’ IT infrastructure to meet objectives.
  • Finally work with partners who supply solutions for its technology.
  • Primary Skills:  Technology, Organisation and Management.


CSO, Chief Security Officer

The “manners” person of technology titles.  The CSO is in charge of the security posture of the business both physical and cyber and is acutely aware of the entire scope of business risks.

Not everyone with the CSO title has the same set of duties but the focus remains the same.

Adoption and upkeep of security standards such as PCI DSS, ISO 27001 and other security related standards will fall under the responsibility of the CSO.

The evolving nature of security means constant growth of emerging threats as a result this role is dynamic in nature as tomorrow’s threats will be different to all others in the past.


The CSO reports to the CEO and the board not to any other C-Level as the scope of the role demands instant business recognition.

The CSO’s duties

  • Firstly the CSO must own the business-wide security both physical and cyber.
  • Consequently have ongoing awareness of national and international threats.
  • Be technical capable to working internally and externally to address security concerns.
  • Have a willingness to continually learn, evolve and adapt.
  • Finally having strong communications skills are a must for education purposes.
  • Primary Skills:  Paranoia, Communication and IT Security.


DPO, Data Protection Officer

The “GDPR” person of technology titles.  The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations of operating a business within Europe require the designation of DPO.

GDPR came into effect in Europe on the 25th of May 2018, consequently a primary example of the changing nature of IT and Security in the Information age.

The default position of the GDPR in most business has fallen to the CSO as they have the scope to understand the security needs of the business.

A dedicated DPO better serves a business GDPR requirements but not every business has invested fully in the role.


The DPO reports to the CSO or CEO if no CSO is in place.

Because the DPO role is formal acceptance of legally imposed security requirements on the business, DPOs require a strong understanding of the ins and outs of GDPR.

The DPO’s duties

  • Firstly and most importantly the DPO must understand the GDPR requirements.
  • Furthermore monitor compliance with GDPR legislation.
  • Technically capable to work internally and externally to address security concerns.
  • Have a willingness to continually learn, evolve and adapt.
  • Finally the DPO requires strong communications skills for education purposes.
  • Primary Skills:  GDPR, Communication and IT Security.


IT Manager or IT Director

The “get it done” people of technology titles.  These people have the task of delivering the medium and tactical requirements of the business.

These leaders work with various technical people in the business consequently bringing together disparate skillsets to get tasks done.

These titles will report to a C-Level executive rarely the CEO directly.

These managers execute tasks as part of the overall strategy as a result are reactive more than proactive in focus the ability to work.  People and teams require “people skills” and “soft skills” as well as “technical skills”.

To get an idea of some of the skills I’ve put together a collection of articles to help.

The responsibilities of the IT Manager or IT Director, depending on the size of the business can and do include all of the roles above however the size of the business dictates the title of the role.

For a smaller businesses the CIO and CTO roll into the IT Manager / Director.

Wrap Up

The technical titles themselves are blurred because as the business grows there becomes a more and more specific focus for the roles.
However you knowing which titles are your responsibility and the focus of those titles helps you improve yourself and the teams who work for you.
I’d love to have your opinion on any of the titles and focus responsibilities mentioned here.

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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