Rating CIO’s–Who are the good ones? (part 1 of 2)


There are 4 classes of CIO’s.

CIO’s that live off Gartner reports are good CIO’s 27% of the time 3 times out of 10. Their strategies read like an IT buzzword generator in an infinite loop and technology illiterate CEO’s oft confuse it for intelligence or insight…. but only for a year or two.

CIO’s that are really just re-titled CFO’s who are really just focused on cost control are my second class of CIO.  Their IT group to them is just a drain on profitability and the objective is to have the least amount of IT at the least cost.  They also generally last a year or two after their Cost efficacy programs show their results in lower productivity, lower sales, lower profit and angry customers/employees.

The third class of CIO is the promoted IT Manager. This is the person who does understand the technology, knows what server gives the best uptime, knows how long a new system takes to develop and knows how much efficient IT operations should cost. They know all about ITIL and Service Level Agreements and they are rarely “taken” by a vendor on vapourware. There is also a very good chance they don’t know much about the business they run the systems for.  These people last until a smart outsourcer convinces the CEO that they know the business better than their internal people do, then the CIO and his/her management team is toast.

The fourth class of CIO is the business focused CIO.  They know enough about technology to place good people around them that can help them navigate technical waters safely.  Their focus though is on business. What the business needs to achieve to be successful and how IT can help make that happen is their most important objective. They manage a portfolio of initiatives and balance it to create both forward pushing innovation and introspective projects that help the company do things they already do, but do it better and more cost effectively. These are the CIO’s that become iconic in their organizations. These are the CIO’s that are always included in the board meetings. These are the CIO’s that provide true business value and to no surprise rate higher.

When a company writes-off a major IT initiative it almost always occurs with a CIO who is a member of one of the first 3 classes.

Buzzword Bobby wants to do ECM, EAI, CRM, SOA, BI, EDW, ESB and the Cloud without any idea of why or when or how to align it with the business. Their programs fail eight out of ten times or more.

Fiscal Freddy takes on outsourcing, consolidation, rationalization and deprivation projects that neuter the organization’s core capabilities. Their programs also fail eight out of ten times or more.

Techie Tina was a great Cobol programmer, PMO lead and IT department manager. She now brings all of that knowledge to bear on creating robust, efficient systems that ensure the organization makes no significant progress. The projects rarely fail to be delivered, but they still fail 8 out of 10 times to deliver enough business value.

In the fourth class I will provide the example of one of the finest CIO’s I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He was a banker.  For 25 years he had from starting in a branch giving loans, worked up through risk analysis, finance, treasury, marketing, GM of a group and then President of  the bank’s largest, most profitable division. He liked technology. He used it, he read constantly and he surrounded himself with a team of experts he could really trust. He took the CIO job because he understood how critical the role was to the future of the bank.  He did not read the business cases put forward for new major initiatives, he created them. He visited with each of the business groups asked specific questions on their strategy and got full alignment with them on what initiatives would deliver the benefits. When it came to the final business justification for a $100 Million initiative, it was the business stakeholders who asked and I quote:

“Are you sure that’s enough money? We really want to make sure this is properly funded.”

I would argue today that the most effective CIO is not the one that attends all the Gartner conferences, not the camouflaged CFO and not the really good IT person. The CIO that will rate the best is the business person who understands the intricacies and strategies of the organization they serve and has sufficient technical knowledge to know when to ask good questions and whom to ask them to.

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