The Good CIO

The question

The other day my friend who has been in IT recruiting for a million years (her words), asked me what makes a good CIO.  I suppose because she knows that I have been an IT consultant since “mini” computers were the size of your Hobart fridge, with Fortran and Cobal as the dominant languages, and that I have done work for quite a few Fortune 50 companies. She assumed I would have worked with several in my time and she was right. I have worked with/for a bunch of CIO’s, mostly good ones, ranging from the CIO of a national business publishing company to the one for a small tech company in the legal information space, with finance, healthcare and biotech companies in between.

I gave her my off the cuff answer, which I thought was pretty good but the question haunted me.  That’s because that roll, new when I was first engaging with clients, has changed, morphing over the years into something different from its genesis.  Like “The Good Wife” Julianna Margulies portrayed, it meant different things based on the need and perspective of that role.  And more importantly, like the character, it has grown to be a much more prominent role in the company executive team. Complicating this is the differentiation and role of the CTO but, let’s leave that alone.

But to the question

So, what does make a “good CIO”?  My first answer was that s/he was 3 things: 1) someone with technical vision for the business and their industry, 2) one who was a “cheerleader” for technology inside the company, and last but not least by any measure, 3) a leader for technology inside and outside the company, their business and their industry.  I thought that was pretty good for a casual conversation.

But wait!  That’s not right

But I didn’t feel good about the answer after we ended our phone call.  As I thought through the question, and considered what a CIO needed to be to help grow a large business versus a small or mid-sized business, or the needs of a traditional, non-technology company versus a company whose business is to deliver technology, I realized that I had given an overly simple and possibly trite answer.

The real answer is

It depends.  It’s fairly common for a large enterprise to have a senior executive who is responsible for the information landscape and ecosystem.  His/her focus is market/business information and financial reporting/management.  S/He is a representative of the company as a whole, works with the CFO and probably is teamed with a CTO who is responsible for the technology vision, ecosystem sustainability and risk management.

But for the small to mid-sized businesses, especially traditional, non-technology companies, if they even have a CIO, s/he resembles more the acrobat who keeps the plates spinning on poles.  S/He is everywhere and has a hand in everything associated with Information Systems within the company.

But that isn’t quite right either

As I think through the role of CIO, I think it depends on the company and is complicated but the goal is simple:  S/He is to lead the company to a place where s/he is no longer needed.

What I am saying is that a really “Good CIO” is working themselves out of a job.  If s/he is leading IT along a roadmap to simplicity, sustainability and resilience, s/he will eventually have nothing to do.  That’s unfair but, it will mean that the job will become part time, “fractional” if you will.  S/He could have other skills s/he can contribute the company but the IT work will eventually consume a smaller chunk of his/her available time.

Sorry guys

With Cloud computing, Saas, IaaS, DRaaS, Network Services Providers, and everything else “as a service”, the CIO job is finding, contracting with, and managing the relationship with these service providers.

The good news is that the company can focus on its business needs and, if the CIO has done the work, the owners/board/executives will never have to ask “can IT support that?”