CIOs are not necessarily from IT; they can come from all parts of the company. Indeed, when I was a corporate dude running around the hall of a Global 2000 company, I often reported to a CIO who came from the accounting group or from production.
CIOs were almost always political animals, focused more on interpersonal relationships with the other executives than on the technical tasks at hand. And that's not always a bad thing because they do tend to obtain fatter budgets for IT. Still, at times it felt like the guy who was supposed to be driving the ship had no idea how to steer it.
Enter the cloud. Here CIOs have a real opportunity to shine by making things cheaper and more agile. Or they may make themselves look foolish by passing up some real opportunities to change for the better. As a result, I see increasing numbers of CIOs out of a job because they mishandle the cloud shift.
What happens to these CIOs is that they push back on cloud because owning headcount and hardware is a measure of political importance. Or they act as proxies for their technical leaders who feel threatened by the cloud. Either way, the departments work around them (shadow IT), which makes the CIO appear to be hindering progress. The CIO is fired, and the new CIO is tasked with taking over the shadow IT clouds and putting everything back under the IT umbrella.
To be fair, it's often been wise not to adopt highly hyped new waves of technology. Much of it is simply an unproven fad that dissipates after a few short years. When I was a CTO, I succeeded by enforcing evaluation of new technologies on realistic terms and often made an unpopular call by saying "no," "wait," or "start small and see."
CIOs must cull through emerging technologies to determine their real value and the appropriate level of investment, if any. That seems to be a skill most CIOs don't have. So, faced with the rise of the cloud and its compelling opportunities, these CIOs fall back on old, bad behaviors.
Should your CIO be fired if your company is to take real advantage of the cloud? To make that decision, the core metric should be the degree of effective use of technology to support the business. This means taking some well-considered risks, rather than avoiding all risks or taking every risk. And understanding when to take those risks is a career skill that can't be taught.
CIOs who push back on promising new technologies for political, emotional, or other non-business-supporting reasons will -- and should -- find themselves out of a job.
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