The Paradoxes of CIOs

What do you think of the role of the CIO in your office? Is s/he the tech expert in command of the IT staff or a top executive involved in strategic business decisions (or both)? Is s/he a peer or a subordinate to the CFO? Does the answer to these questions make a difference?

According to Martha Heller, author of “The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership,” the answers matter very much. She spoke with Chris Dorobek of the DorobekINSIDER about the CIO paradoxes she found in her research and how they impact the job of a CIO.

The role of the CIO is just one of the 4 paradoxes Heller identifies. Here’s a breakdown of the paradoxes:

1. The Role

  • Heller’s definition: CIO is a “business executive who is a strategic leader with his or her focus on the growth and future of the firm” and “whose management and functional responsibility happens to be the IT organization.”
  • An alternative definition, one that is widely adopted is: an organization’s technology leader.
  • This narrower definition denies the CIO a seat at the table in top executive strategy discussions at the expense of the organization

2. The Stakeholders

  • Since technology is pervasive in an organization, the CIO’s job is increasingly important yet they are often considered removed from the strategy/business side of operations
  • CIOs must align their technology strategy to business strategy

3. The Staff

  • Need to have staff that has technical knowledge of the past yet also is on the cutting edge of future technology
  • The CIO needs a unique mix of skills: relationship-building, communicating about technology, leading, implementing the vision of the company

4. The Future

  • Personal skills are crucial to success: skills that make for a great technologist, can be what makes
    for a lousy CEO
  • Demand for top notch CIOs, with the ability to lead on business decisions and also to understand the technical aspects, is high but the supply is low

Learn more about the conflicts surrounding the CIO’s job and role in an organization by reading Martha Heller’s new book, The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership.

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