Have you heard this old joke before? “What does CIO stand for? Answer: Career Is Over.”

With the constant churn in the executive suite, CIOs are certainly not immune to turnover and change. The tenure for CIOs can vary significantly. One of the critical success factors in the longevity and ultimate effectiveness of a CIO is the relationship with their respective CEO. So what does success look like from a CIO leadership perspective?

The first thing is that every CIO/CEO relationship is as different as the individuals involved in the situation. The relationship dynamics can be driven by a number of factors, including: the focus of the CEO and the company’s reliance on information technology; the business strategy and financial performance of the company; the size and structure of the overall organization; the organizational culture and the inherent political environment; and the status of the productive use of information technology within the company. All of these factors can contribute to the credibility of the CIO with their CEO, or the lack thereof.

However, there are some basic things that all CIOs probably need from their CEOs:

  • CIOs need their CEOs to provide clarity and consistency of direction. It is very difficult and unproductive to have a “start and stop” IT strategy. The strategy for IT can be based on either increasing or decreasing investments, but there needs to be some consistency in that direction in order for the CIO to prepare properly and to execute the strategy.
  • CIOs can benefit from the CEO’s sense of vision and elevation on strategic issues. The strategy and role for IT must fit within the larger Corporate context. Part of the role of CEOs is to provide the overall strategic context for the executive suite, including their CIOs.
  • CIOs need their CEOs to provide support of IT’s financial requirements. Most IT strategies will require some form of investment to support the changes needed to leverage new technology. In the face of conflicting investment and financial priorities with CFOs, it may be tough to achieve the required IT share without the support of the CEO.
  • CIOs can benefit from the CEO’s active support of strategic partnerships with key third parties. CEO to CEO communications can be an effective way to open doors and knock down organizational barriers.
  • CIOs need to have visibility at the Board of Directors table. CEOs can help facilitate and support that connection.

In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, CEOs need their CIOs to be successful for the benefit of their organizations. Of course, the underpinning of any great relationship is usually based on mutual trust and respect. This includes CEOs giving their CIOs the freedom to act and at the same time holding them accountable for delivering the expected results.

The bottom-line for any CIO is not what was done for the CEO and the organization yesterday, but more importantly what the CIO is doing for the CEO and the organization both for today and for tomorrow, with constant focus on making things better through business change and innovation using the power of digital technologies.

So back to the answer to that old joke: it should not be “Career Is Over”, but rather “Change Innovation Owner”, which is the ultimate enabler in the CEO and CIO relationship dance.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
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Gary Davenport
Gary is the President of the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN) which represents approximately 300 CIOs across Canada by growing IT leaders, speaking with one voice on issues facing CIOs and building a vendor-neutral community for the safe exchange of ideas and best practices.