CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

Quickly: Some CIOs are still ambivalent about having the CEO involved in tech.

Content:  At the Forrester IT Forum in Las Vegas two weeks ago, I held a private dinner for 15 Chief Information Officers. We worked on the question: "How do you raise the tech IQ of your CEO?" 

I've always thought a CEO who knew tech would be welcomed by the CIO. But most of the CIOs at my dinner didn't agree. Here are some comments:

1) "The CEO should trust IT to get it right."

2) "CEOs are about making the company successful -- not on the minutiae of tech."

3) "The CEO is about results, not tech."

Now I had a great time at the dinner, but I must respectfully disagree with my guests. The CEO doesn't have to program, but he/she cannot be ignorant when it comes to IT/business technology. I'm a big believer that the CEO must connect the outside world to the company (see A.G. Lafley's great article in HBR -- What Only the CEO Can Do -- you can get a short summary and the ability to download it here). There is much change being driven by tech in the outside world that the CEO must understand -- and translate for the inside. As I like to say: Tech is changing your customers, and your customers will change your company. It's a dynamic that CEOs must wade into up to their hips -- it can't be left to marketing or to IT/BT. Only the CEO has the wide view to make the connections between external tech change and the company, and the power to ensure that the company responds in a way that benefits its customers.

Comments

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

As the CEO / COO of my company, I think it's extremely important that I'm tuned into the details of applications we develop.Great post.

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

I have to respectfully disagree with the CIOs who provided feedback. Having served as a CIO and executive consultant for several organizations, I have worked with a mixture of digital and analog CEOs. In my experience, the business value produced by IT organizations is significantly higher, when the organization is lead by digital CEOs/business leaders.When I was first promoted to CIO in 2001, I could have agreed with these comments. In the analog age, the CIOs strength came from smoke, mirrors, and duct tape. Prior to the .com recovery and Enterprise 2.0 revolution, the CIO was seldom seen as a peer to the C-Level staff members. In such environments, IT was typically seen as a cost center and not a source of growth and change. An isolationist attitude often served as a survival mechanism for CIOs in these scenarios.In today's market, business leaders, much like the consumers they serve, understand the benefits and the risks of technology. In the digital age, these stakeholders often have the technical IQ required to partner with the IT organization to affect true innovation and produce sustainable business value. However, this requires the CIO to evolve. The CIO must open their team to partnerships that generate success and results. These new opportunities and partnerships require CIOs to make a paradigm shift away from types of statements made in your meetings.1) "The CEO should trust IT to get it right."Statistically, the majority of IT organizations are dysfunctional. Even the most successful organizations have a high likelihood of failure. On average, less than half of all IT projects are considered successes (expected results, on time, and on budget). Any team delivered similar results would warrant interrogation and mistrust from the CEO.Further, CEOs have a responsibility to customers and stakeholders to unsure that IT will “get it right”. That assurance is not built by blindly trusting the CIO. Nor is it produced by isolating the CEO and other business leaders from day to day activities. Genuine assurance can only be developed when the CEO and others are invited to partner with IT in transparent efforts. However, this transparency is only successful when the CEO understands the technology and the teams’ methodologies.2) "CEOs are about making the company successful -- not on the minutiae of tech."In today’s market, there are few companies whose success is not predicated upon the minutiae of technology. CEOs seldom have a desire to micro manage technology. However, their involvement as an informed leader is necessary, when so much is dependent on IT’s success.3) "The CEO is about results, not tech."For the last decade, there have been few means of producing results that are more impactful that technology. In most organizations, technology leads results. Logically, that produces a mandate for the CEO to be involved in IT leadership to some degree.Additional information on this evolution of the CIO can be found at http://www.devrevival.com/2009/06/how-social-media-will-change-role-of.html

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

I find it unfortunate that your article raises some misinterpretations by a few. Your question was "How do you raise the tech IQ of your CEO?" (implying that it is a good thing to have).The answer from the CIOs, and I quote here Bob Gregg, one of the participants, was "I recall our orientation was the CEO needs the ability to comprehend how IT can transform their business, make wise IT investment decisions, and drive business technology implementation."To me, that does not require a high Tech IQ, it required a high Business IQ. That also does not say "CEOs: stay out of tech." as the title of the article suggested.I would like to here from the other 14 CIOs. Otherwise, it looks like they are being used again as fodder for some controversial discussion, as suggested in my post at http://tao-of-living.com/2009/07/business-it-alignment-a-twisted-tale/

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

As a participant, I recall our orientation was the CEO needs the ability to comprehend how IT can transform their business, make wise IT investment decisions, and drive business technology implementation. We thought these as less than a requirement for High IT IQ, and gratefully so! Rather, the organization must have the people, processes, and tools to identify and implement innovative applications of technology to sustain competitive advantage.

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

George, we unfortunately face a time when CIO's want to make everyone believe that only they know how to do IT and how to make it work for the business. I commend you for the guts to be openly critical with your customers.Unfortunately CIOs and IT solution providers have made it extremly difficult to deliver IT solutions that drive the business forward. IT today holds the business back through a senseless tech-process-bureaucracy stuck between code-freeze application icebergs and legal-freeze outsourcing contracts.But then I have to throw the ball back into your court as well, George. Analyst companies such as yours take part in this game. Rather than being a driver of innovation, Forrester favors IT market dominating players in its reports and to give better ratings to more products you further fragment the market offering by being buzzword compliant. It is fairly obvious why and somewhat understandable. We all have to make our money.I would still rate Forrester above most analysts groups, but George - you can only change the world by starting with the man in the mirror.

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

Hey Max:I've always seen Forrester as a force for improving IT/BT -- helping it break through its historical intransigence and bureaucratic tendencies. The company strives to be fair and accurate -- if we are rating "market dominating players" highly, it's because our research shows their products to be superior. On the buzzword front we've often attempted to cut through the fog -- but always try to err on the side of clear communications -- i.e., if the marketplace has decided on terminology, we'll use it.We've got our warts, like any company, but we take our ethics and standards very, very seriously. If we didn't, we wouldn't be here and growing, 25 years after our founding.

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

All,9 Reasons Why Applications Developers Think Their CIO Is Clueless might provide some insights:http://www.cio.com/article/419764/_Reasons_Why_Application_Developers_Think_Their_CIO_Is_Clueless?page=1

re: CIOs to CEOs: "Stay out of tech."

As with a lot of things, I think the answer is that "It depends." In this case, I think it depends a lot on the nature of the company and the challenges/opportunities they face. I think it also depends on what you mean by "Tech IQ." I read recently that when HuffPost started, they invited a big name to blog for them and in their first meeting he said "what's a blog?" His second question was "If I fax it in to you, can you post it for me?" By most standards, he had a very low tech IQ. Yet he quickly became one of their most popular and frequent bloggers. So a willingness to adapt to new technology and an ability to see and seize opportunities offered by new technology might be more important than a technical understanding of that technology.