>The Many Faces of the CIO

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The Chief Information Officer is a complex and challenging role even for those highly experienced, well educated, and innately talented. In fact, Public CIO Magazine in 2009 stated that the average tenure for a CIO is barely 24 months. What is it that is so challenging about being a CIO?

Well of course, there is the technology itself, which some may consider challenging in terms of keeping pace with the quick and ever changing products and services and roles that the IT plays in our society.

But one of the reasons not so frequently addressed is that the CIO role itself is so multi-faceted and requires talents that span a broad range of skills sets that not a lot of people have mastered.

In the CIO Support Services Framework (CSSF), I talked about this in terms of the varied strategic functions and skills that the CIO needs in order to plan and execute effectively (instead of just being consumed in the day-to-day firefighting)—from enterprise architecture to IT governance, from program and project management to customer relationship management, and from IT security to performance management—the CIO must pull these together seamlessly to provide IT capabilities to the end-user.

I came across this concept of the multifaceted CIO this week, in a white paper by The Center for CIO Leadership called “Beyond the Crossroads: How Business-Savvy CIOs Enable Top-Performing Enterprises and How Top-Performing Enterprise Leverage Business-Savvy CIOs.” The paper identifies multiple CIO core competencies, including a generic “leadership” category (which seems to cross-over the other competencies), “business strategy and process” reengineering, technology “innovation and growth”, and organization and talent management.

Additionally, the white paper, identifies some interesting research from a 2009 IBM global survey entitled “The New Voice of the CIO” that points to both the numerous dimensions required of the CIO as well as the dichotomy of the CIO role. The research describes both “the strategic initiatives and supporting tactical roles that CIOs need to focus upon,” as follows:

Insightful Visionary

Able Pragmatist

Savvy Value Creator

Relentless Cost Cutter

Collaborative Business Leader

Inspiring IT Manager

Clearly, the CIO has to have many functions that he/she must perform well and furthermore, these roles are at times seemingly polar-opposites—some examples are as follows:

  • Developing the strategy, but also executing on it.
  • Growing the business through ongoing investments in new technologies, but also for decommissioning old technologies, streamlining and cutting costs.
  • Driving innovation, modernization, and transformation, but also ensuring a sound, stable, and reliable technology infrastructure.
  • Maintaining a security and privacy, but also for creating an open environment for information sharing, collaboration, and transparency.
  • Understanding the various lines of business, but also running a well honed IT shop.
  • Managing internal, employee resources, but also typically managing external, contracted resources.
  • Focusing internally on the mission and business, but also for reaching outside the organization for best practices and partnerships.

However, what can seem like contradictions in the CIO role are not really incongruous, but rather they are mutually supportive functions. We develop the strategy so we can faithfully execute. We invest in new technology so we can decommission the legacy systems. We invest in new future capabilities, while maintaining a stable present day capacity, and so on. The role of the CIO is truly multifaceted, but also synergistic and a potent platform for making significant contributions to the organization.

While certainly, the CIO does not accomplish all these things by him/herself, the CIO does have to be able to lead the many facets of the job that is required. The CIO must be able to talk everything from applications development to service oriented architecture, from data center modernization to cloud computing, from server and storage virtualization to mobility solutions, from green computing to security and privacy, and so much more.

The CIO is not a job for everybody, but it is a job for some people—who can master the many facets and even the seeming contractions of the job—and who can do it with a joy and passion for business and IT that is contagious to others and to the organization.