CIOs: Do CEOs 'get' technology?

Silicon.com's CIO jury rates the savvy of their CIOs. Is it true that they get all their information from in-flight magazines?
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor
CEOs must do more to understand the challenges and potential of technology if they want to avoid failed IT projects and get more out of their investment, according to CIOs.

Research by the Cranfield School of Management and the Chartered Management Institute out earlier this week found CEOs too often pass the buck on big IT-driven transformation and change programs, and concluded they need to do more to understand IT.

Ten of this week's 12-strong silicon.com CIO Jury IT leaders panel agreed with the research and said a CEO in today's business environment needs to understand technology better.

Stuart Marshall, CIO at investment bank Investcorp, said: "From my experience, CEOs I have worked for have understood the potential uses of technology but not appreciated the challenges of doing and running IT--they read an article from an in-flight magazine and they think it's all easy."

It is not the technology the CEO needs to understand better but rather its potential, according to Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at advertising agency Creston. He said: "A CEO who is comfortable discussing IT-driven change can see the bigger picture and will be able to more objectively assess IT investments."

Alastair Behenna, CIO at Harvey Nash, said: "It is inexcusable for any CEO not to possess a basic understanding of the technology that underpins their business in today's marketplace. They certainly don't need to be an expert - they can hire experts - but they need to be able to drive innovation and change by motivating and measuring through, at least, functional knowledge." Ade Bajomo, head of IT strategy and systems at Pearl Life, said the need for CEOs to be more tech-savvy is especially the case in financial services.

He said: "It is probably well summed up by a quote from a very IT-aware Dutch CEO that I worked with sometime ago--'no IT, no business'."

One of the biggest problems is the CEO underestimating the IT implications of the big business transformation programs they are so keen to drive. Mike Roberts, IT director at the London Clinic, said: "The lack of understanding in the complexity and cost of implementing the underlying IT is one of the most common issues at the root of the failure of most business transformation and change projects."

But Graham Yellowley, director of technology services at investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International, said: "The issue is whether the organization, including IT, is aligned to the CEO's goals or not."

Mark Foulsham, head of IT at online insurance company eSure, said it is more important CIOs understand the business environment. "Part of the CIO's role is to ensure that senior executives are fully conversant with technology issues," he said.

Today's CIO Jury was...
Russell Altendorff, IT director, London Business School
Ade Bajomo, head of IT strategy and systems, Pearl Life
Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
Mark Foulsham, head of IT, eSure
Neil Harvey, head of IT and accommodation, Food Standards Agency
John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis
Stuart Marshall, CIO, Investcorp
Jacques Rene, CTO, Ascend
Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
Kevin Swindin, director of services and CIO, City University
Gavin Whatrup, group IT director, Creston
Graham Yellowley, director of technology services, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International

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