Why CIOs Are Scapegoats And Not Heroes

The Lifecycle of a CIO

According to a recent Korn Ferry report on C-level job tenure, CIOs have average job tenure of 4.1 years. In comparison, CEOs remain in their position almost twice as long, at eight years on average. Those numbers seem to indicate at least one CIO change—and most likely two—during each CEO’s regime. Considering how important technology, big data, and online security have become to every company’s bottom line, why do CIO changes happening so frequently?

“One factor is a general perception of IT as a business ‘disabler,’” writes Larry Bonfante, a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, in CIO Insight magazine. “Everything seems to take forever and things don’t seem to get done at a high level of satisfaction. Many CIOs complain that their internal stakeholders don’t understand the complexity of the daily issues they face.”

It’s this philosophical clash between technical infrastructure and financial performance that often leads to the dreaded “five-year CIO lifecycle.” The first year is the CIO honeymoon, where the shortcomings of previous IT leadership decisions are exposed and a short-term business continuity plan is put into place. The second year then becomes all about strategy and planning, and the third year is spent implementing that plan.

In the fourth year, the excitement surrounding new IT initiatives starts to wear off, expectations and timelines are reexamined, and the focus shifts from concepts to quantifiable results. By year five, the CIO has fallen out of favor, and his or her transition out is underway and a new technical executive search has begun.

Is this simply a case of performance? Are CIOs fundamentally less effective at their positions than other C-level executives? Is it the nature of technology, which is constantly evolving, to create a path of planned obsolescence for the leaders who oversee and implement it? Some see an even deeper issue at play.

“Many CIOs are not perceived as business executives but as technologists,” writes Bonfante. “To me, technology is no different from any other business asset, such as money and human capital. Technology is only valuable if it is applied to business issues that create business value. How many CIOs are spending most of their time performing hardware and software upgrades as opposed to enabling their customers to have a more productive experience or driving new revenue opportunities.”

A Different Perspective

Jeff Mains, CEO of Intelligent Contacts, whose company hosts communication and payment solutions aimed at helping CIOs, has a different perspective. “There is an incredible pressure to move the needle in a hurry. It’s not always the CIO’s fault that business expectations aren’t being met. They often inherit legacy technology, software agreements, and sacred cows in the organization that must be adopted or integrated into the new IT strategy.”

“CIOs struggle when they connect their identity and professional worth into the tools and process,” continues Mains. “Successful CIOs position themselves as a business leader who leverages technology to deliver a company’s vision to the marketplace. That puts them in the racecar with the CEO, instead of in the pit making repairs.”

How does a CIO break the five-year cycle, move the needle quicker, and move from the pit crew to the driver’s seat? The most effective way, according to Mains, is to transition philosophically from a building mindset to a refining one.

“Most CIOs are used to building technical solutions themselves,” says Mains. “They feel they have more control and ownership that way. “

Unfortunately, that building process can be very expensive and time-consuming. CEOs, who are wired to focus on end results, don’t always appreciate the technical complexities CIOs face. This is where a philosophical change might help—from a building mentality to a refinement mentality.

This is where companies like Intelligent Contacts come in, providing CIOs with a working and secure cloud-hosted infrastructure ready for integration.

“Our goal is to deliver solutions that work immediately with not only our clients’ legacy technology, but also other SaaS platforms like CRM,” says Mains. “This allows CIOs to focus on specific strategies that drive results.”

“The business strategy component is becoming far more critical to the relevance and success of senior level technology professionals,” writes Michael Beckley, co-founder and CTO of Appian, in Wired magazine. “Organizations with strategically minded CIOs or CTOs will flourish.”

If CIOs spend less time building and fixing and more time refining, the perception of CIOs might change from operational speed bumps to profit-generating visionaries? When that happens, the honeymoon need not ever end.

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