Are CIOs Operational or Business leaders?
Most CEOs view their CIOs as trusted operational leaders; few CEOs regard their
CIOs as business leaders--despite most CIOs' belief to the contrary. These are
the findings of a Gartner report titled "Improving the CEO's view of the
Analysts at Gartner Executive Programs (EXP) feel this gap in perceived abilities
limits the CIO's opportunity to deliver greater value to the enterprise. In
a recent Gartner survey of more than 450 non-IT business managers, the IT leader
was ranked next to last among eight senior executive positions, according to
significance in setting strategic direction for an enterprise. Last place went
to the Human Resources leader.
Yet the new Gartner report shows that most CIOs have an opportunity to change
this situation, improve the relationship with their CEO, and create more value
for the enterprise by becoming less risk-averse and extending their role outside
traditional IT activities. In short, the potential exists for the age of the
operational CIO to be eclipsed soon with the CIO ascending to a more strategic
Gartner analysts suggest three reasons for the often-strained relationship between
CEO and CIO. First, CEOs are overloaded and simply do not view IT as a top priority.
Marcus Blosch, Vice President and Research Director at Gartner EXP, said the
fundamental gap in how the role of IT is viewed by many senior executives can
inhibit business growth.
CEOs and CIOs also have very different perceptions of business priorities. In
2004, CEOs are focused on revenue and growth, yet most CIOs believe that security,
cost and privacy are the top three drivers on the business agenda. This difference
in focus limits the credibility of CIOs, often impeding their ability to contribute
at board level. Gartner acknowledges that whilst it is imperative for CIOs to
deliver on key issues such as security, they must also recognize the importance
of aligning and engaging with the CxO agenda if they are to add real value to
Finally the Gartner study points to differences in CEO and CIO business styles
and behaviors. CEOs are more optimistic, evangelizing and idea generating, whilst
CIOs are more conservative, and focused on detail, implementation and closure.
Moreover, profiles of other CxOs are closer to that of the CEO. As a result,
the CIO often is perceived within the group as something of a 'naysayer' with
a focus on the operational and system complexities involved in enterprise change.
This can make CIO contributions seem out of step with the CEO, executive committee
or board, with the CIO often seen as lacking vision and dynamism.
According to Dave Aron, Research Director at Gartner EXP, "The challenge
for the CIO is to move out of the IT space and their comfort zone to demonstrate
deeper business knowledge and leadership. In the words of one of the CEOs interviewed,
the 'Super-CIO' needs to be 'bilingual' - able to communicate and engage with
the wider business organization as comfortably as with the IS organization."
A shift in CIO behavior
To make the most of the relationship with the CEO, the CIO must shift from task-
to relationship-oriented behavior, from management to leadership focus, from
relying on control to learning to influence and from drawing on an IT knowledge
base to drawing on a business knowledge base. Above all, Aron said, "CIOs
need to learn to take risks and feel comfortable operating outside their area
of expertise. It is only then that they can truly take on the challenge of aspiring
to real business leadership."
Gartner's view on the future for the CIO remains positive. "The CEO's view
of the CIO is changing as enterprises become more reliant on IT," Aron
said. "I firmly believe that many CIOs can move toward a business leadership
role by effectively managing their relationships with CEOs and other executive