CIOs still the ‘Johnny come lately’ of most organisations

27 Sep 2013

NUI Maynooth president Prof Philip Nolan, IVI general manager Martin Delaney, and Purdue University CIO Dr Gerry McCartney, who was named the 2013 IVI Global Leader in IT Value

CIOs, it seems, are their own worst enemies when it comes to advancing up the corporate ladder, according to Dr Gerry McCartney, vice-president of IT and CIO of Purdue University and alumnis of NUI Maynooth who was in Dublin this week as part of the Innovation Value Institute (IVI) Summit.

McCartney argues that in proving their technical and strategic value to businesses, CIOs need to adopt greater political and imaginative skills.

Technical people, he says, believe in meritocracy, which unfortunately is not how the world always works.

He says the best CIO is very imaginative, spotting new opportunities and not always pushing the process argument.

With technology now being the major pillar of how organisations function, have CIOs not become the rock stars of their organisations? If not, what’s stopping them?

In my experience quite the opposite is true. As organisations have come to increasingly appreciate the importance of technology as the major pillar in their organisation’s survival and success, many CIOs today feel like they are being pushed aside by others within their organisation who want to take a lead in their organisation’s IT strategy.

In other words, if the threat was once a failure by others to appreciate the importance of technology in an organisation, the current threat experienced by CIOs is that of others now recognising the value of IT, and muscling in on their the CIO’s territory. Unfortunately, the average CIO feels a long way from rock stardom right now.

Are there CIOs who have become particularly adept at playing the political game in organisations and thrived as a result – and if so, are they few and far between?

There are no CIOs that I am aware of that would say they are particularly adept at playing the political game. We are in a time of real transition and the key indicator will ultimately be when a CIO is appointed CEO in a major institution.

CIOs graduating over time to becoming CEOs should be a natural next step but unfortunately it is still seen by most as a dead end. There is no inevitable next step from there beyond moving on to another company.

CIOs are still very much the’ Johnny come lately’ figures of most organisations, and perhaps as a result they are not yet as good at playing the power game in the C-Suite.

There may be some high-profile CIOs out there who are currently putting their hands up but they are not being seen by others. Power is generally seized, not given. I have not witnessed that level of political expertise amongst the CIO community. If all you can talk about is technology alone, you are never going to be taken seriously by your peers in business. It is vital that CIOs can equip themselves with the skills to thrive in the C-Suite.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years