What CEOs Want From Their Next IT Leaders

What CEOs Want From Their Next IT Leaders

Wanted: CIO 2.0

The question of what CEOs want from CIOs has been asked for as long as chief information officers have existed. On the face of it, the granting of a C-level role would appear to ensure that information leaders are regarded as strategic authorities by their ultimate bosses. However, reports of what status the CIO has in the organization remain mixed. CIO magazine in the US recently gathered together leading executives and academics to discuss the CIO-CEO relationship.

Michael Friedenberg (CIO magazine): What has changed about what CEOs expect from the CIO?

Raj Gupta (Kellogg School of Management): I have talked to 15 to 20 CEOs directly, and they are looking for someone who can be a trusted business partner. Of course, the CIO has to keep the trains running; otherwise there is no opportunity to be a business partner. But CEOs want the CIO to be a senior leader such that, when you are with the rest of the executive team, it's hard to tell that you are the CIO.

Chris Patrick (Egon Zehnder): No CEO asks us to recruit a great technologist who can get email working -- that's table stakes [the minimum requirement]. They want people who can connect the technology to their strategic intent. I have clients who are investing billions of dollars in IT. They want a person who can show the team the ROI from this investment.

Bob Badavas (TAC Worldwide): A lot of what CIOs have developed and been known for during their careers is now just table stakes. The equivalent with the CFO is the ability to balance the books. I don't give the CFO a lot of credit for that. CIOs must move beyond the plumbing. At the end of the day, what CIOs are paid to do is take a full seat at the strategic planning table and be an integral part of the strategic decision-making -- which means they need to know what business they're in. Get out of the office and find out why people buy your product or service. IT is a strategic weapon. To find out how to use it, the CIO must get out of the office and engage with clients and the front-line distribution or sales organization.

Steve Merry (Sara Lee): It's imperative that the CIO is at the table. Technology is a given: it works, and there is more than enough technology to last us the next 100 years. We need to get value from that by removing the clutter and making it easy to use. Then we can sit with our business partners and take the business forward, focusing on things that make a difference -- growth, innovation and acquisitions.

Friedenberg: I don't know of any CIO or CEO who would disagree with the need for CIOs to drive business value. But not everyone succeeds in doing that. Do CEOs really mean what they say about CIOs?

Patrick: CEOs all read the same Harvard Business Review articles. They all want "strategic CIOs". But often they are not sure what to do with them and how to best leverage the talent and expertise these individuals can bring.

Gupta: While everyone wants this strategic role, both sides are not quite sure if the CIO is as ready as they think. The test I pose to CIOs: 'Can they talk to the management committee and outside stakeholders in a language that doesn't label them as a CIO?' That's the test of credibility. The CEO isn't quite ready as well. They are so engaged in keeping the business running that they have trouble finding time to give the CIO the opportunity to be a strategic business driver. They must have commitment and belief and not just talk the talk.

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