Why CIOs Get (Deserve?) A Bad Rep

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several articles about the challenges with and for CIOs: How CIOs are the obstacle to the missions of business executives; how CIOs and CMOs need to learn to work together; and even articles asking ‘Whose business is IT?’.  Examples include these posts by Michael Krigsman: “CIO and IT Leaders: YOU hold the burden of proof”, and “McKinsey research: IT needs a kick in the keister”.

Sadly, this is not a new discussion.  In 1996, when I came over to IT from an engineering department to implement SAP and lead the IT team, there was discussion about aligning IT with the business.  As someone who came from the business side of the organization, the conversation made no sense to me then, nor does it now.  Alignment implies separate but parallel paths.  What we need is synergy – “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects”.

This lack of synergy is caused largely by two sets of behaviors.

The first is the CIO and the IT team being focused on technology as opposed to the business they’re in.  Even if a CIO embodies the principles of engagement and business-immersion, it can take years to turn the ship – it requires changing the culture of the IT team so that every technology staff member sees his or her work in the context of the business.  AND it means earning the trust of business leaders and establishing work patterns that foster collaboration and co-design.

The second set of behaviors is a vicious cycle caused by the CIO, the technology team, and the business not understanding each other.  While it’s generally accepted that IT professionals need to understand the business they’re serving and communicate in their peers’ language, I believe it’s a two-way street.

CIO’s are ultimately involved in all facets of the business.  Is it too much to ask that the other areas of the organization expend some time and effort  to understand technology? Or are business colleagues too fatigued from the nonsensical alignment conversation and have simply given up on the CIO?

What do you think