Successful CIOs Serve Both Internal, External Customers

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Seven Leadership Skills CIOs Need to Drive Results

CIOs must have the right leadership skills in place to deliver on today's heightened expectations.

I once wondered why CIOs are so prone to self-analysis, with their seemingly near-constant angst over how they are viewed by other executives. I wrote:

I can't decide if it's healthy or unhealthy for CIOs to subject themselves to so much self-analysis about their work. Maybe it's a good thing to constantly strive to better define the role you can play in business improvement. But few other executives seem so conflicted.

At least one CIO I've Interviewed, the University of Kentucky's Vince Kellen, thinks some CIOs have a tendency to complain a little too much. Some of the CIO's peers in the C-suite face similar issues about their corporate identities, he told me:

... CFOs face similar issues, for example. There's a need to be a business leader, not as technical, probably have more outsourcing. So it's the same story. Because the issue gets publicized more in the IT world, we tend to think we're alone. We're not. Other executives have similar challenges. ...

Whether it's healthy or not, CIOs still seem to spend a fair amount of time trying to determine the qualities they need to earn the respect of their business colleagues. That's why we see so many articles like a recent silicon.com piece titled, "The Five Essential Ingredients for Being a Great CIO." As is often the case, much of the advice dispensed by the CIOs quoted in the piece boils down to getting to know an employer's business better.


For instance, Steve Jeffree, operations director and group CIO at the Law Society says CIOs must "understand your executive colleagues, their functions and concentrate on showing that you have a commercial focus first and an IT focus second." And Mark Settle, CIO of BMC Software, says:

... CIOs must get out and spend time with the consumer. That type of direct engagement will show you how IT can really deliver value for the business. Break out of the vicious circle and spend time with the front office.

Maybe I am misinterpreting, but business colleagues seem to be the consumers Settle has in mind in this statement. I think this is a great idea. I wrote about the importance of IT organizations visiting business users on their own turf last summer. But in some sense, I don't think it goes far enough. CIOs - and indeed all business executives - need to get to know their companies' external customers better.


Earlier this year, in an interview with IT Business Edge, HCL Chief Marketing Officer Krishnan Chatterjee offered the three defining qualities of what his company calls "the reincarnate CIO," one of which was a strong understanding of the currency of business and the end customer. (Emphasis mine.) Once uncommon, I think a knowledge of business units other than IT is becoming table stakes. To truly set him/herself apart, a CIO must try to determine what external customers want rather than waiting for a business peer to tell him/her. In the same post in which I cited Chatterjee's interview, I offered a couple examples of CIOs doing this.