CEOs and CIOs – an Imperfect Union

Great article from Strategy + Business, Booz Allen’s in-house publication: CEO vs. CIO: Can This Marriage Be Saved? It focuses on the unfortunate tension between many CEOs and their CIOs. Some relevant quotes:

The problem is that most CEOs are interested in technology only to the extent that it adds value to the organization. To them, CIOs are experts only in technology and service delivery. Some other executive — the CFO, a business unit head, a sales manager, for example — has to point the CEO in the right direction before computers, networks, BlackBerrys, PDAs, mobile databases, and any other technology become integrated with the strategic direction of the corporation.

CIOs should be defining technological initiatives in terms the business understands — speeding products to market, enabling growth, and reading costs and risks. If CIOs adopted that kind of approach, top management might be inspired to take them more seriously as partners in developing the company’s strategic direction.

When CEOs and CIOs treat each other as if they’re from different planets, companies are potentially deprived of an essential component of any business plan: the ability to link the latest technology smartly and innovatively to the company’s strategic priorities.

At most companies, CIOs are not public faces and usually aren’t complaining about it. They may eagerly speak at a technical conference arguing an engineering point relating to a wireless network they’re installing, but we can’t recall the last time a CIO appeared on a quarterly earnings analyst call to describe how the just-completed customer relations telecommunications system will impact revenue and profits in the coming year.

Also interesting is the final page of the article – which identifies the four roles of the CIO. While I don’t disagree with the authors (in fact, I think this should be required reading for any company contemplating hiring a CIO), implicit in the statement is something that I think should be explicit: the CEO must be capable of letting the CIO function in these roles. The roles? Strategist, Business Advisor, IT Executive, Architect.

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