I recently attended an event with the CIOs of several regional companies.  During the social hour that preceded the evening’s program I engaged in a wide-ranging discussion with a number of these folks.   The discussions tended to gravitate to technical minutiae, operational problems or complaints, Rodney Dangerfield style, about the lack of respect they receive from their peers.  Several were in the budgeting process and talked of their situation more as victims than as leaders.  Now, to be fair, some of this was no doubt friends being candid with friends. There is certainly some value to in being able to talk about problems and challenges “in the family.”  But as I drove home that evening and reflected on what was said, I couldn’t help but believe that the subject matter and tone would have been much different were I speaking with, say, the CFOs, COOs or CEOs of their respective organizations. This brings me to a very thoughtful piece I read this week in Forbes by Bob Evans of Oracle titled Career Suicide and the CIO: 4 Deadly New Threats.”

He begins by quoting a tweet that quoted a CIO as saying “It’s hard to be strategic with your pants on fire.”  If there were a book of CIO proverbs this should be in it!  It is indeed hard to be strategic when you live from crisis to crisis. Last year I wrote a post titled Maslow’s Hierarchy for IT Organizations where I discussed the fact that, until you get your operational and service house in order, it is impossible to be taken seriously as a strategic contributor to the organization.  I sensed that many of the CIOs I spoke with lived with permanently flaming trousers.

Evans goes on to list four career suicide risks for CIOs.  Here they are, quoted directly from his article.


Threat #1: Lack of Vision. No matter how technically astute, no matter how many wildly complex projects have been completed, no matter how dependable, CIOs today will not succeed and will need to be replaced if they don’t have an ability to see not only where their company and industry are and have been, but where they are headed, why they’re headed that way, and what all-new minefields and opportunities are looming. Business models and processes are mutating faster than ever before, customer tastes and requirements are moving even faster than that, and new technologies—social, mobile, customer experience, cloud suites, private clouds, in-memory computing, and more—will continue to pour into the market. CIOs have to have the vision to be able to stay on top of and harness the power of those changes rather than be intimidated and overwhelmed by them.


Threat #2: Lack of Leadership. For too long, many CIOs have been willing to sit at the kids’ table, waiting for the grown-ups at the big table to decide what would be done and how it would be done and why. CIOs today need to be active and inspiring participants in those conversations and relentless contributors to new ways for their companies to get closer to customers, find new sources of revenue, create new products more quickly, accelerate all facets of their operations, and embed value-creating technologies in not just the IT infrastructure but in the company’s products, services, processes, and culture.


Threat #3: Trying to Resist the Social/Mobile Revolution. Whatever the objection to them and however valid those objections might be in theory, social and mobile technologies and processes are triggering sweeping improvements in how companies communicate with customers and employees, monitor discussions around their brands, engage customers and prospects more immediately and precisely, and gain real-time insights into powerful market trends and possibilities. Just a few years ago, this level of change and opportunity would have been almost unfathomable, and any CIO who tries to hold back the surge because of well-intentioned but tactical concerns over security or governance or standards is going to get overruled, then marginalized, and then reassigned.


Threat #4: Surrendering to the 80/20 budget trap. The rationale is simple—not easy, but simple: unless CIOs lead the way in reducing the portion of their overall IT budgets now spent on low-value infrastructure and keeping the lights on (it’s typically between 70% and 80%), then they will never liberate the funds necessary to invest in and create customer-facing applications and other innovative approaches to growth and engagement. In the past, suitable alternatives to server sprawl and grossly underutilized storage weren’t available; today they are. And those alternatives represent the key for CIOs to modernize their infrastructure to match the performance needs of tomorrow while also bending the spending curve away from low-value clutter to high-value innovation. The CIO’s mantra should be this: more innovation, less integration.


More innovation, less integration.  That is great advice. 

I will be beginning a series of posts on the subject of being an “Entrepreneurial CIO”  in which I will discuss innovation, risk taking, and, the subject I am most passionate about, leading.  We will look at what CIOs must do if they are to lead business transformations in a rapidly changing world. 

For now, you may want to assess your own career suicide risk and take concrete steps to lower it.


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