Five reasons why there's so much CIO angst

Five reasons why there's so much CIO angst

Summary: Nicholas Carr asks if CIOs are dead weight. David Berlind notes that CIOs may be dead weight unless they are the only thing in the IT department.


Nicholas Carr asks if CIOs are dead weight. David Berlind notes that CIOs may be dead weight unless they are the only thing in the IT department. Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson says CIOs merely keep the lights on these days. CIO executive editor Christopher Koch defends CIOs.

So what's the hubbub about?

This debate won't go away--in fact you'll hear it at every CIO conference you attend. Why is there so much angst? The short answer is that CIOs are dealing with numerous cross currents that don't necessarily add up that well.

Here are five reasons there's so much CIO angst:

The tech bubble scars linger: Ever meet anyone that survived the Great Depression? They don't spend money and they always expect the floor of the economy to fall from under them. They also don't waste things. Big events can traumatize a generation. For the IT profession, the dot-com boom and bust was such an event. CIOs used to be flying high and innovating because optimism reigned. Today? CIOs are gun shy and the higher ups won't authorize any bold moves. Bottom line: No CIO gets fired for not taking chances. Therefore, CIOs don't take chances. Even Web 2.0 items that may be interesting CIOs want in a suite.

The pendulum has swung away from technologists to business types: Many CIOs today fill more than one role as they focus more on operations. Guess which one moves you up the corporate ladder quicker? Hint: It doesn't contain the letters "C-I-O." An increasing number of CIOs don't even have technology backgrounds. In IT today everything is about a metric. Not that I'm opposed to that since I'm a big fan of quantification. But there are side effects to metric-itis. The biggest side effect is that you're likely to do a project that looks good in a spreadsheet, but may not give your company a long-lasting innovation lead because it doesn't have the right acronyms (TCO, ROI, IRR) attached.

Corporate accountability has become paralysis: We had Enron and Worldcom and now corporate America is stuck with an endless array of controls that may not add up to efficiency or even better corporate governance. How many IT dollars were sucked into the Sarbanes-Oxley morass? We'll never know, but to say Sarbanes-Oxley has been a plague on the CIO profession (CIOs are often the Sarbox fall people) may be an understatement.

The metrics that would validate IT are still sketchy: Now everyone reading this site knows IT is important to some degree. Try marketing that internally. Try quantifying a security project. It's difficult. And even as IT gets more focused on business it's unlikely CIOs will get credit for a snazzy new CRM system or sales process. Who will take the credit? You got it: The marketing and sales executives. Why? Marketing folks are used to selling. Computer science majors--the few that are left--couldn't sell water in the desert.

What exactly does a CIO do? No other C-level title has so much ambiguity. As Carr notes CIOs have identity issues. That's because they have definition issues. There is no blueprint CIO and you sure can't explain the role in an elevator pitch. Some keep the lights on. Some revamp entire companies. Some focus on innovation while others provide competitive advantage. Technically speaking a CIO should be about managing information, but the roles and responsibilities are muddled.

Topic: CXO

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  • Trust is a big issue

    We have recently conducted research where we spoke to a variety of CIOs and IT directors for a book outlining principles for effective IT-business alignment (see What became clear from our research is that in order for CIOs and the rest of the IT organisation to get a seat at the table and so reduce the angst, they need to establish the trust of the business. That begins with getting the basics right in terms of delivering on the business expectations of the current services that IT delivers. That provides the platform on which to build a more collaborative and far less angst-ridden relationship.
    • They had better feeling it....

      Having watched so many, 5 unexpierenced CIO's come through my last organization and change everything so as to protect themself's while trashing the department and laying off longtime staff. Meanwhile hiring people who never worked in an IT shop before claiming to have saved the company millions in costs only to have it spent and recorded in another book! I hope CIO's go the way of the dinasour's they really are!
    • IT Creeer Bust

      IT is never going to have the best and the brightest wanting to enter the field as long as it is merely a lap dog for the business.

      If you want a return to the days of overwhelming IT innovation, business will have to return to the days when IT was a lot more fun, when it was technology for technology's sake. IT pure-plays right and left, venture capital to burn. Take 5 certs and you were making middle-class income.

      The current situation of low pay, drudge work and saddling IT with every manager skilled at nothing more than "keeping IT in check" is what drives people out.
      Too Old For IT
  • CIOs have become Microsoft Relationship Managers

    I would add another source of stress: CIOs who have come to view their job-description as "manager of the organization's relationship with Microsoft" will be under enormous & increasing stress as their CEO & COO turn to them and ask, "What are we doing about Vista?" "What are we doing about Linux?" "What is Open Source?" "What is ODF?" and "What's your budget look like 15% off?"
  • That Might be the case in the US but its a big world out there...

    The position and clout of I.T thought the company that I have seen over the world changes a great deal. It is not uncommon for many companies under 80 Employees to have I.T Managers. - The are Management positions and report to the Board. They decide I.T direction, they put in place the I.T budget requirements AND they are respected and very well paid. The bright I.T managers surround themselves with the very best AND pay their staff very very very well. I'm back home in .AU I was just reading a story quoting an overall industry rise in I.T pay of approx 5% in the year ending 2006.

    In large development shops where they employ Analyst's AND programmers its the Analyst's who get the money as code cutter are a dime a dozen
  • Business first

    As an MBA/TM (Technology Management) (with triple undergrad majors in Admin, Management, and Marketing), I can understand why those who are not business oriented first, and technology next, are having problems coping in the truly business atmosphere of the present-day company. Here are some things for the aspiring or current CIO to ponder:

    1. By not being business oriented first, the "CIO" misses the picture of what the business is in business for. What is the core competency of the company? I will bet it has nothing to do with IT. Even if it is a software company, it is not an IT company. IT is a function, not a product.
    2. Technology is a tool. Plain and simple. Who cares if a product is delivered using .NET or straight coding in C/C++, COBOL, BASIC, Pascal, JAVA, or any number of other solutions? Only IT. The customers don't care that much! All they want is something that makes their life easier, period. If the customer wants a standard bit screwdriver, then don't give them a Swiss Pocket Tool Kit.
    3. Deliver, on time and in budget! The greatest whizbang will be for naught if it cannot be delivered in a timely, cost-effective manner and the customer likes it. Forget adding that little additional thing (it will only take a minute to add this), and deliver just what the customer asked for. If you exceed scope, you run into some possible situations: a) you exceed delivery time, b) the customer does not like your enhancement and you must now remove it (with the possibility of "a" occurring).
    4. The "bleeding edge" exists for others. If your department is always looking at the bleeding edge for the answers to your issues, then you are going to have issues in the long run. Pick a platform that you can develop under and stick with it until there is a very real compelling reason to change. For example, if you are looking at F#.NET for any reason, it had better be because you cannot accomplish a real business need with the language you have standardized on previously. At my company, I have found PHP, ColdFusion, PERL, ASP, ASPX, and some other bases (C#.NET, VB.NET, JAVA, JavaScript, VBScript, etc.) serving our web-based products. Desk top products have been developed in FoxPro, VisualBasic, C#.NET, Access/VBA, and JAVA. It is much more cost effective to standardize to a set products and make sure that all of your staff can work in those languages. We found out just how vulnerable IT had made the company when one employee left and there was no one available in the IT department to maintain the work that person did.

    Again, IMMHO
    jc williams