Why Do CIOs Get No Respect

This editorial from Bob Evans in InformationWeek makes some good points – unfortunately it can also be read as reinforcing the view that all of IT’s woes are the fault of the CIO. As long as this view prevails, and continues to be reinforced by the media, organizations will continue to fail to come anywhere near realizing the potential value of their increasingly significant and complex investments in IT – see my response below:

I agree, at a high level with your points, but would like to expand on/challenge a couple of them.

I agree with your point about “advice that should have been obvious 20 years ago, however it cannot be described as condescending ” other than perhaps the tone – when such advice, which is indeed blindingly obvious, has equally obviously not been followed by so many CIOs and their organizations. This is where I would suggest that your fifth point, “Idiocy in the media’s portrayal of CIOs” bears further examination. While there has certainly been some idiocy – not unfortunately limited to the media – the real issue here is that the media continues to lay all the blame for the woes of IT with the CIO. I am certainly not an apologist for CIOs, or the IT function – far from it. In my more than 45 years experience – encompassing technical, managerial and executive positions, both within IT and other parts of the business, I have seen some great CIOs (or whatever they were called back then!), a lot of mediocre ones, and some downright awful ones.

Your third point, “CIOs failure to offer quantify business value” (I didn’t attempt to correct the typo) illustrates my point. While the CIO, and the IT function, are certainly accountable for delivering the technology services and capabilities that the business needs in a reliable, secure and cost-effective way, and are responsible to help the business understand how technology can contribute to the achievement of strategic objectives, indeed cause the business to rethink their strategies and objectives, they cannot be held solely accountable for the actual realization of those objectives and the resulting business value.

A CEO once asked me, “How come my CIO always wants to talk to me about technology?” My response was “Because you let him.” Another CEO told me, “I know this technology stuff is important, but I’d rather focus on my core business.” Well, IT can no longer be treated as a “black box” – the box is empty – its contents distributed throughout all the processes that constitute the core business. Forget “alignment” – IT is embedded in everything organizations do. Value doesn’t come from the technology itself – it comes from how that business uses the technology. Executives and business management can no longer abdicate anything with an IT label to the CIO. They must understand the role IT plays in their organizations, and the changes that have to be made to the business model, the business processes, people’s work, organizational structure etc. if they are to get value from their IT investments or, more accurately, investments in IT-enabled change. They must accept accountability for (ownership of) their IT investment decisions, and the realization of business value from those investments. This represents a significant cultural change for many organizations, and will take a strong partnership between the CIO and his/her peers, and between the IT function and the other parts of the business, with a clear understanding and acceptance of their respective accountabilities and responsibilities.

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