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Are CEOs from Mars and CIOs from Venus?

February 12, 2014

It is a familiar refrain these days. IT needs to be more business driven and less technology driven. That’s clear to pretty much everyone. Achieving world peace is infinitely more difficult, however aligning CEO and CIO agendas has its own challenges. The transition is in full swing but, in the minds of many, not progressing quickly enough. In defense of the CIO, it’s as if they have one foot on the dock (IT) and one in the boat (the business), and the boat isn’t tied off.

In a blog discussing how the cloud can help harness the power of mobile collaboration, Cisco’s Sheila Jordan reiterated the CEO’s lament, saying “CEOs want IT leaders to figure out how technology can help their businesses transform and expand, as much as make them operate.” The underlying point is, of course, is that cloud computing can have an enormous positive impact on facilitating business transformation. It’s key to allowing CIOs to assume a more strategic role in the organization, while the infrastructure is operated and managed elsewhere under business/technology staff oversight.

Even so, being that business-minded CIO can still be a challenge for some, both as a matter of style and responsibilities. Work done by executive recruiter Korn/Ferry International  looked at the leadership styles and qualities possessed by CIOs in comparison to all the other CXO types. Their respective strengths are not all that well aligned.

By disposition, CIOs are not risk takers. With the tangle of interconnections and dependencies typical of most IT infrastructures, CIOs are analytical and detail oriented because missteps can have immediate and disruptive consequences in the operation of the business, as well as future operations if incorrect decisions are made. CEOs, on the other hand, take input, evaluate, weigh pros and cons and take action. Assessing risk/reward is part of their constitutions, and they’re not shy about rolling the dice on one or even several business initiatives at the same time.  A CIO’s ability to assimilate these traits into his/her own personality profiles will determine their success, not only as CIOs of the future but as potential CEOs of the future as well.

Not all CIOs want to be CEOs. Regardless, becoming a contributor to strategy requires that a CIO is viewed as a contributor to profit and loss and not to cost, which is associated with support roles.  This convergence of cloud, mobile, Big Data and social media is a perfect jumping off point from being tactical to becoming strategic. These are the businesses enablers. They will drive future competitive differentiation and rewarding customer experiences. They will require technical understanding in so far as how technology can be applied to solve problems and seize opportunities, which are business issues.

In an interview with Andrew Rashbass, former CIO and now CEO of the Economist Group, a UK media and publishing company, said that to be effective, a CIO must recognize that it’s his or her job to engage with the executive staff. They have responsibility for all aspects of the organization. Success or failure ultimately resides with them. It is the CIO’s job to understand how to help them succeed. That can only be done by working at it. Most enlightening is Andrew’s description of how a CIO and a CEO might respond to the same opportunity and its associated risk of success. It speaks volumes.


  • Cisco, “Deliver what every CEO wants through Cloud Collaboration”
  • Korn/Ferry International, “CIO to CEO: Aspiring CIOs Should Focus On Critical Behavioral Skill”
  • Ernst & Young, “Transition from CIO to CEO”

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