Why CIOs Don’t Matter Any More

CIOs don't matter because they aren't part of a business
CIOs don’t matter because they aren’t part of a business

Q: What do you call a business executive who doesn’t get any respect?


Ok, so the joke is a little bit lame; however, the point is clear: all too often the CIO is a non-player when it comes to whose in charge in the executive suite. He/she will spend their time trying to put out IT fires only to discover that they don’t have a seat at the strategic planning table.

The Digital IQ survey came out awhile ago from Diamond Management and it pretty much confirmed what we all know. Although 80% of the companies surveyed said that IT is strategic to their company, only 33% say that their CIOs are deeply involved in their strategic planning process. Why is this? In short, I believe that the IT department is viewed as being a collection of weirdos and outcasts that do a lot of things that have no bearing on helping the rest of the company to succeed. The CIO, as the leader of the IT department, is seen as a weirdo executive by proxy and since nobody really understands what he/she does, they don’t invite the CIO to the strategy planning party.

So what do CIOs spend their time doing? The gut answer would be playing solitaire and shopping on eBay; however, I’m hoping that is incorrect. The survey says that CIO spend less than 10% of their time managing IT operations. Since CIOs aren’t spending their time dealing with strategic issues, they end up spending it on tactical issues and then justifying their tactics. What a waste!

One of the reasons that the CIO is in such a bad situation is because the survey reports that in only about 66% of the companys did the CEO advocate IT as a strategic asset. Without this support, the IT department has no support at the strategic level of planning.

What is really interesting about this survey is what the financial firms have to say – they get it right. They involve both the CIO and their IT departments in the strategic planning process.Why you ask? It’s simple: financial firms set themselves apart from their competition by the functionality and the quality of their IT tools. They are required to develop these tools themselves in order to stay ahead of the pack.

So where does this leave us? If CIOs want to start mattering to their firms and being invited to participate in the strategic planning part of the business, then they are going to have to change themselves and their departments. They are going to have to remake their department over in the image of the rest of the company. Instead of being viewed as a group of loaners, they need to be seen as a part of the process. The CIO needs to build an IT department that walks, talks, and looks like the rest of the business. Only by doing this will he/she finally be able to fully participate in the business planning process.

15 thoughts on “Why CIOs Don’t Matter Any More”

  1. What a disconcerting perspective. Unfortunately, it is shared by so many of the people in positions that can actually change it.

    Interestingly enough, that opinion only makes me work harder in my quest to become an IT leader in a company. As my Master’s in Information Systems Management comes to a close, I face the significant hurdle of finding a firm willing to give me the opportunity to leverage my knowledge and 12+ years of IT industry experience towards the position.

    I have spent countless hours studying organizational behavior, change management, and strategic information management in addition to IT subjects ranging from databases, programming to IT project management. The experience I have gained while working in the industry at the many different positions only re-inforces my knowledge of what works and doesn’t work.

    I simply want a crack at attacking this issue from the inside. I actually look forward to the challenge of changing this perception. Unfortunately, getting your foot into this particular doorway is even more difficult than it seems.

    So my question to you, Dr. ANderson, is where do I find such opportunities to apply myself? They don’t exactly post these positions on Monster that I have seen.

  2. Jay, you have asked the question that all of IT seeks an answer to! The best way for you to be invited to fill a leadership position is to show “leadership potential”. What you said about the Master’s degree and the other study that you’ve done leads me to believe that your technical skills are top-notch. However, how are your leadership skills?

    Good IT leaders need to have more than technical knowledge. They need to be able to get teams to work together and accomplish tasks. This is no small set of skills to have. I talk about it alot over on my blog (self promotion time) at http://itstaffingandmotivation.blogspot.com/

    Here’s three quick ways to move towards what you are looking for:

    (1) Offer to help – take on challenges that are outside of your job description. Make sure that you boss knows and approves of this or you won’t get any credit.

    (2) Determine what you boss get graded on – instead of solving the problems that you THINK your job requires, instead ask your boss what his/her top three issues are and solve them.

    (3) Learn to communicate effectively – too many of us IT types don’t know how to effectively speak in public or give good presentations. One place to start is (more self promotion) over at http://commfortechstaff.blogspot.com/

    It’s not easy to become an IT leader, but it is in your hands. Work on those soft skills and a promotion is in your future.

  3. Dr. Anderson,

    Thank you for the great advice! People and leadership skills are two of the things I concentrate most on at this point in my career. I have no problems effectively communicating up-channel, down-channel or with my peers. I am always wary of my intended audience and typically tailor my information with vocabularies they are familiar with. I use processes, functions and tasks associated with their respective roles within the organization and system to provide a more effective knowledge exchange.

    I rarely hesitate to seek leadership roles when the opportunities present themselves. I enjoy challenges and learning new things. Several of my efforts in process improvement outside of my job description have resulted in ‘best practice’ commendations from external audit teams.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on what my priorities should be. I feel the person responsible for hiring you did so for a reason (or possibly several). It makes sense that ‘those’ should be your priorities above all else. The most relevant factors relating to me getting hired, contract extensions, or additional projects have always been based on whether or not I have resolved the issues I was hired for.

    I appreciate your feedback on my question and will continue to work towards making my efforts and results more ‘noticable’ to those who can impact my progression. This is where I believe I experience most of my difficulties. I don’t like to blow my own horn and draw attention to myself. I do see the significance of getting my fair share of recognition, but feel a good supervisor, mentor, or boss should be aware of them already.

  4. You are saying all the right things! I think that us IT folks too often adopt a “field of dreams” mentality where we think that if we do good work, everyone else will just automatically know it.

    Make sure that the work that you are doing has been requested by someone – that way they’ll be waiting for it when you have completed it. Also make sure that the work actually solves a visible problem. This way when it’s completed, you can present it to others as a solution, not just a completed task.

    Good Luck!

  5. It isn’t that the CIO isn’t needed anymore.

    A. Most CIOs have the wrong title. They are the break fix managers in most companies and nothing more. Those businesses will either die or are not yet at the point where their business are driven by technology. Look how long it took the newspaper industry to figure out it needed to change or die? Now many of them are dying…..the same thing happened to the music industry.

    B. The coming generational refresh of the baby boomers will morph the business leader and CIO into a new business leader. Which will reduce the need for a dedicated CIO. I already see the CIO as a senior business strategist in many industries or businesses. Most don’t carry the title of CIO anymore.

    The new business leaders will be required to have the old CIO expertise if they want there businesses and their careers to survive and flourish.

    • Trent: you bring up a really good point – maybe it’s time for the CIO title to be retired. More and more I’m seeing the CTO title (Chief Technology Officer). This is really the head-geek role without the business side. What’s missing is what you’ve brought up – a Chief IT Strategy Officer who focuses no so much on the technology, but rather how technology can help the business meet its goals. Things should get interesting in the next couple of years…!

  6. Hi,

    In recent years IT has become prominent in many fields. It is being projected as a supportive role for any business. like finance or marketing. In the past CIO role was used for managing information that was accumulated through sales metrics, production metrics, finance metrics and P&L. This outlook is still the case in many companies.

    In my humble opinion, a CIO’s role or a CTO role is not the way to look at in future. We need Chief Information Technology Strategist’s who has the vision and innovation drive to make the most of technology and information available on hand. I realized this while doing my MBA in technology management. Being a CITS requires solid engineering foundation, risk taking attitude, business accumen and solid understanding of your current environment (people, process and technology). Existing CIO’s lack severely in one or more of these requirements. Yes, in many way’s IT people are geeks ( hate this terminology though), and they need a leader who can dirty their hands with them, participate in energizing discussions and challenge them to achieve the difficult.

    • Selvakumar: I think that you’ve uncovered a key point. The way that we define a CIO today is not enough to move IT forward. Perhaps dividing the role into two parts – one that focuses on technology and one that focuses on business strategy is what is called for…?

      • Jim,

        I would not suggest splitting these two roles. I have worked for companies that had both a CIO and CTO. Having two people adds confusion and conflicting priorities when it comes to direction.

        • If the business has a large enough infrastructure and is heavily reliant on technology for growth then the roles should be split but the CTO should report to the CIO. If there are conflicting priorities then the CIO and CTO don’t know there jobs…..

          • Hi Trent,

            Why would a technology based company need a CIO? Most CTO’s are visionaries and C-Level executives. Do you think CTO’s are not mature enough or lack business accumen?

  7. Good question.

    When I said ‘heavily reliant’ i was referring to a business like a financial services firm. When I think of a ‘technology based’ company i would imagine you were referring to something like a software company?

    CTO’s may be visionaries but I see it as a different type of vision that the CIO.

    My comment about the CTO has nothing to do with there maturity or business acumen. I see the CTO responsible for infrastructure and service, more of an operational role. That takes a very different type of talent but no less important than the CIO.

    The CIO when positioned properly will have a vantage point that shows them how the entire firm operations from end to end. There are few, if any roles that offer this view which gives the CIO the ability to see opportunities deep within the organization that can help the front lines cut costs, reduce client on-boarding or improve the customer experience.

    • Trent,

      Your differentiation is interesting to me because while I have seen the both titles used to indicate the leader of the IT group, there does seem to be a trend towards how the job is oriented based on the title. And they have been the the opposite of what you describe.

      In my experience a CIO tends to be Operations oriented who has all “light’s on” responsibilities and will be occasionally brought in the deal with strategic issues. CTOs (when reporting to the CEO) are technology oriented business people who think more strategically about how IT assets are best used within the company.

      That said I agree fully with your position that the leader of the IT group needs to look for those opportunities that are deep within the organization that can help the efficiency of the organization.

  8. Hi Trent,

    You have provided a logical explanation for a COO. We have been bogged down by many C-level executive titles, it makes no sense to have many chiefs in a company.

    We have CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, CMO, CBO, CSO and CAO, while everybody holding a specific title thinks their role is different than others. There might be many other C-level titles i might not know and these people are all leaders who have different backgrounds.


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