CIO: Most Thankless Job in the Enterprise?

Ann All

Is the CIO the most thankless job in the enterprise?


Sure sounds like it, based upon recent blogs authored by Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson and CIO Magazine's Christopher Koch. Their war of the words, rather gleefully detailed by Nicholas Carr in his Rough Type blog, began when Anderson attended a CIO Magazine conference and came back with the impression that most CIOs are "dead weight" and "one step above Building Maintenance."


Koch's rebuttal made the point that most CIOs come from a technology background and thus are not "business people who have been given the thankless jobs of keeping the lights on, IT wise," as Anderson had portrayed them. And while Anderson had implied that most CIOs' resistance to Web 2.0 technologies stemmed from a desire to preserve the status quo, Koch's take was that much of Web 2.0 seems "redundant" to CIOs.


While the two men obviously have vastly differing opinions on the importance of the CIO's role, Carr says that, in essence, they agree that CIOs are more about maintaining control than about enabling business innovation. The CIO is the least defined position in the C-suite, says Carr, and also "the most prone to identity crises."


We think Carr is on to something there, at least with the latter views. For proof, we have this CIOUpdate article, in which the author contends that the "I" in CIO stands not only for "Information," but also for "Integration," "Innovation" (take that, Chris Anderson), "Irritation," "Identity," "Inoculation," "International" and "Investigative."


Then there's this recent itWorldCanada article, which concludes that CIOs generally fall under four categories: turnaround artist, operational expert, business leader and innovation agent (are you listening, Chris Anderson?).


While four roles is fewer than the eight outlined in the CIOUpdate piece, they all sound like pretty tough shoes for one person to fill. The multiplicity of responsibilities laid out in these articles appears to back up Carr's claim of a role looking hard for a clear-cut identity. Like Sally Field in "Sybil," the CIO needs to find some way to make peace with all of these different identities.


Ultimately, it may be too much to ask of one person. In an interesting interview with IT Business Edge, Philip Lay of TCG Advisors sees two clear roles for the CIO -- chief process innovation officer and chief information technology officer. Lay says these roles demand two separate executives, each with different skill sets and responsibilities. "It was probably unrealistic in the first place to expect one person to manage both aspects," he says.


Lay says we are starting to see this separation occur in the real world, though not in a formal way. "It is starting life as a role before appearing on people's business cards." And while the names of the two positions may change, he says, "the essential trend is clear, and unlikely to be reversed."

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Apr 9, 2007 4:42 PM Meridith Levinson Meridith Levinson  says:
That IT World Canada article you reference, the one that outlines the four types of CIOs, was actually originally published in the January 1, 2007 issue of CIO magazine. You can find it here: http://www.cio.com/state-of-the-cio/2007/index. The article is part of CIO magazine's annual State of the CIO survey, which was led by Chris Koch this year. Reply
Apr 10, 2007 9:49 AM Jed Simms Jed Simms  says:
The role of the CIO has six dimensions1 Running operations/keeping the network up2 Improving IT operations/reducing the costs of IT3 Supporting applications development 4 Improving IT's performance - in ways the business can see (eg moving to broadband)5 Improving business operations - together with the business6 Improving business performance - together with the businessHowever, while the business only really values roles 5 and 6, failure at roles 1 -> 3 will bring the CIO down immediatelyIt is a delicate juggling act which requires the CIO to get the basics right (1-3) and then focus on the business dimensions which many aspire tooBut there is a catch, many businesses only want their CIOs to focus on 1->4; presenting a 'glass ceiling' for further progression. CIOs in these companies must either change the perception of IT or change their jobsDetails on this "IT Value Pyramid" and its implications for CIOs will be presented at the bITa conference in Boston on May 22nd Reply
Apr 11, 2007 9:00 AM Sandra Cherry Sandra Cherry  says:
Comparing CIO to Sybil is an understatement. Jed's explanation of the CIO is dead on. I have found at the companies that I have worked for these past several years the technology roles are ever evolving and I am relieved that the industry is seeing the divergence of the current skillset as an obstacle to true business intelligence when it comes to IT. We have broken down the responsibilities even further than just two positions. Currently CIO does word out to Chief Information Office which is responsible for business direction and cohesion. We also have CTO, our Chief Technology Officer, pure tech climbed the ranks and is ultimately reponsible to make sure everything is working and manages SLA's and OLA's. Next is the CInO or just CIO again possibly should be CIntO, which stands for Chief Integration Officer working with other chiefs and corporate business units focuses mainly applications/services/data warehouse possibly to include web systems and content management. Below this level you have you're associated VP's and Director's who manage specific knowledge sets in IT. Recently I have seen CDO, Chief Data Officer show up on job boards. It may seem like there are too many chefs in the kitchen, but it works so naturally and drives production with such force I won't be surprised to see these job titles more and more on employment websites. This is also vital for large, international organizations. I am interested to see what comes out of BITA. Reply
Apr 11, 2007 9:46 AM Deb Lawley Deb Lawley  says:
Oh really! Poor, pitiful things. Get over it. If the CIO wants to be a company OFFICER, then they have to step up to the fact that they have many roles to perform in that position. Do you think the CFO or CEO only has one role? Once the CIO figures out that the mission of IT is to support the mission of the organization, and not the other way around, half their identity crisis will be resolved. Every department is under-staffed, under-funded, and over-worked, not just IT. Every leader has to play many roles. Perhaps instead of annointing techies to be officers they need to report to someone who has some business creds and who doesn't care about the technology as an end in itself, but rather what purpose it has to the organization. Because if techie CIOs can't get that concept they will never be true officers of the company. The CIO position is not, cannot, be about the technology. It must be about using technology to help the business - otherwise, the CIO will be working against the best interests of the organization, and will never be taken seriously. Cheesy TV advertisements to the contrary, technology does not drive the business, it serves the business. Reply
Apr 11, 2007 11:45 AM Ajit Kapoor Ajit Kapoor  says:
The real job for the CIO is complex but no more than any owner of a business or the CEO. The problem based on my 45 years of experience is that most current CIOs are not qualified to do the job as it should be done. In the past they were merely cost containment officers and consolidations and outsourcing has helped in getting that done (though I still believe that one should not outsourcewhat one cannot manage) -the low hanging fruits to say, but that is another story.Today the CIO must be a business person and that does not mean ignorant in technology, skilled in playing politics to keep status quo, and incompetent in doing anything meaningful if it requires "change". our compensation structure rewards the staus quo and there is no incentive to do oyherwise. As long as we will look only to solve the current crisis- a fire fighting mode of operation, we will never change the framework upon which any efficient operations can be based.Bottom Line: yes it requires multiple skills and recognition of talents that other can bring into the Team CIO-but we are used to giving accolades to the CIO person and that is demoralizing to the organization. So my suggestion to the CIO magazine and all other reward giving organization is to acknowledge the team not the person. can human ego support this? Reply
Apr 11, 2007 12:35 PM Rich McClain Rich McClain  says:
I have served many (too many to count) Global institutions as a leading management consultant, CIO, and entrepreneur for almost 30 years. This includes helping executives and directors cope with their technology groups and their CIOs.......or not.After many years and many miles, I have concluded that CIOs are not unlike any other executive. They can be visionary, hardworking, technically astute, balanced, fiscally responsible, service oriented, personable, methodical, and lucky.....and still not be successful. But that's business in general, right?Trying to define what a CIO is (or should be) is like trying to define a leader. My definition of a leader is someone who has followers. We all crave a laundry list of traits which we expect our best managers to possess, but unless they have followers, they really aren't leaders.And saying "technology exists to serve the business" is too naive. It's the chicken/egg syndrome. Larry Ellison and Bill Gates have made a pretty good living focused on creating technologies which subsequently enabled many new business ideas.And so it is with CIO's. One size does not fit all. Success depends on many variables, and that ever frustrating "timing thing". I've seen some CIO's who I probably would not hire or recommend end up doing great things. I've seen others with big resumes being promoted by executive placement firms fail their companies miserably (typically after signing $multi-million contracts for themselves and their agent charging $250k in "search" fees).So I recommend spending less time debating job descriptions (which is a divisive process by nature) and more time nurturing individual and team strengths while eliminating weaknesses. Yes, we need a game plan and sometimes need to change players, positions, and coaches - but look at the scoreboard not the rule book when making those decisions. True leaders and successful CIOs will emerge from the chaos. Reply
Apr 12, 2007 10:42 AM Van Rompay Erik Van Rompay Erik  says:
I believe we create an identity crisis by pushing a CIO in a box. A CIO is part of the executive board - close to the CEO and COO and his/her role depends on the configuration of the board.I have held all 3 titles and in each case, I was doing the same kind of job.1) keeping the company rolling (even as CEO, I checked daily the smooth operations of our IT systems - as I checked each day our invoice status, our production pipelines....)2) creating innovation. This is an exective role as you need to define how the project will change your position on the market or how transform internal processes. The IT part is only a translation of this business requirement3) enable innovation or how promote internally new technologies like web2.0 or podcasting. Every executive has a role to play so these "blue sky projects" can come from everyone and I think it is up to the CEO to create the environment to allow free thinking about innovation.The thing which is so interesting in a CIO role is that a CIO has the ability to be everywhere if he/she goes deep enough inside corporate processes. The day I moved from a CIO to a CEO position, I suddenly realised I managed completely our invoicing system, I had a clear view on our supply chain system and knew its strength and weakness. I even managed extremely well our marketing campaigns as I knew how the system worked and the results we could expect from our campaigns.Conclusion: a CIO has to be a Chief Acceleration Officer or how to make the existing company faster, smoother and better... a mission that is common to CEO's and COO's. Reply
Apr 12, 2007 1:27 PM Helen Falcione Helen Falcione  says:
With respect to the CIO identity crisis one needs to know where their strength lies and then progress along that route. While the corporate goal may dictate certain standards, it is well recognized amoung the larger corporations that the business analyists provide the meat and bones from which the analyst should bring to the table and devour and conquer accordingly.IWIN Starts with ISEE which stems IMINGENIOUS.SincerelyHelen Falcione Reply
Apr 16, 2007 6:05 PM Peter Carrillo Peter Carrillo  says:
It seems that our industry is in a loop of sorts. While we are or should be systems theorists (based on our perchant for engineering, code, or even possibly business acumen), we seem to put technical at the top of the heap. See some of the CIO Position Descriptions. There in lies the rub. The business and its performance is paramount. I contend that a good CIO does not have to be as technical as the team he/she puts around them. Buiness understanding and support are the keys to the position. And a good foundaton for decision and systems theory are fundamental ingridents to a CIOs success. This and participative management are a must. However, that being said, it is the Executive Team that does not understand what is truely meant by the title CIO. A capacity for Leadership and an understanding of the business and the stakeholders (community - global or otherwist) will help solve the issues. But all levels have to take the road less traveled by. Reply
Apr 25, 2007 9:00 AM Joseph A. Montione Joseph A. Montione  says:
CIO; Do You Understand Computers; Moreover, Can You Sell Them?In the Chess Game of the C level positions, it is far too easy to Rook a good C Level employee into the CIO position. They buy a new Black Berry Device and start the In Crowd meetings. This works until the technology staff realizes that the CIO did not know that the Black Berry device was network dependent and limited in the open source arena; i.e. they do not know about technology. The results are disastrous!The other reason CIOs fail is they know too much about technology, implementing the best systems and business processes with a technical efficiency unmatched in their business arena. In this situation the corporate culture does not understand what it is they brought to the table!? They are confused by the CIOs lack of business skills necessary to Sell the Dream. The results are disastrous!How many executives understand technology and people? This mix is hard to find. The position is not thankless; the position is evolving. The only problem is that a good match of business technical skills and corporate communication skills is hard to find! Unlike other management positions; there are no CIO puppet positions!Joseph A. MontioneFounder: GTOpendatabase L.L.C.A Solutions Provider Reply
Jun 22, 2013 2:01 PM JB Lormand JB Lormand  says: in response to Deb Lawley
The CIO's role is overwhelming, and you obviously have never been one. Most CEO's and CFO's dump on the CIO and expect immediate results without understanding the layers of complexity that makes up an IT infrastructure. The CIO more than understands the business processes, he's responsible for all of it. Reply

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