Global CIO: Suicide Strategy For CIOs: Aligning IT With The Business - InformationWeek
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Global CIO: Suicide Strategy For CIOs: Aligning IT With The Business

CIOs won't survive if they accept the back-bencher status that "align IT with the business" mandates. It's time to bury such CIO stereotypes and start connecting deeply with customers.

Earlier this year I proposed that the good ol' predictable days of "aligning IT with the business" have come and gone, and that such an approach has become counterproductive and career-threatening. Since then, a series of factors--from the withering global economy to the relentless demands from customers for more engagment, more choices, and more control--have only strengthened my belief that CIOs who don't make the transformational jump from that old model to the new one of aligning IT with their companies' customers are hurting their companies and stunting their own careers.

That CIO transformation from internal operations guy to customer-facing business leader was at the heart of a discussion I had last week with about 100 CIOs and IT executives at a dinner meeting of the Philadelphia chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM). The topic was "Why CIOs Need To Align IT With Customers," and the richly historic Union League building--with presidents, generals and other statesmen gazing down at us from their framed perspectives--provided an ideal setting for us to talk about where the CIO profession has been and what is has achieved, but more importantly to then consider where it needs to go to reach its next level of achievement and relevance.

I've trotted out this strategic-realignment idea throughout this troubled year to CIOs and CEOs, academics and analysts, and while some believe it's important and transformative, others have been quick to say it's misguided and silly at best, and dangerous at worst. So in the hope of continuing to push this conversation forward and of getting your opinions on the matter, I'd like to share with you the basic framework of the talk I gave last week to the gracious and high-achieving folks of the Philadelphia SIM chapter.

I began with a few remarks about why CIOs seem to get less respect than they should, and I used a number of anecdotes that individually were perhaps "funny" but in aggregate were not really funny at all when they combine to form the foundation of a profession that's too often seen as out of touch with the marketplace, earnest but on the fringe, and tactical rather than strategic. And my overarching point was this: what are we doing to wipe out those "funny" but ultimatly corrosive stereotypes that collectively reinforce the patronizing "align IT with the business" canard that is hurting CIOs?

(For more detail or deeper analyses on the points raised in the rest of this column, please check out the "Recommended Reading" list at the bottom of this column.)

"Funny" Truisms About CIOs

• How many surveys do you see asking if the CFO reports to the CEO or the CIO?

• Why is it big news rather than the norm when a CIO is on the Executive Committee?

• How many dozensor thousandsof times have you heard the urban myth that CIO stands for Career Is Over? And its corollary that the average CIO tenure is 16 months? First, where's the research to support this? And second, does that sort of "joke" help or hurt CIOs?

• At a global exeutive search firm, the head of the CIO practice said on the firm's website that "few IT executives have the business qualifications or capitalist killer instinct for making money." Hey, don't laughthis is a guy who gets paid to try to find jobs for you milquetoasts!

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• A writer at a magazine ostensibly in the service of CIOs--I mean, after all, its name is CIO Magazine--said the only way any CIO has ever achieved his or her position is through political scheming, back-stabbing, and in her exact words, "butt-kissing." Hey, with supporters like that, who needs detractors? More important, where does this type of preposterous, know-nothing commentary come from? Is this an indication of how truly distorted the public perception of your profession is?

• And even accepting that Fortune magazine is only a thin shell of what it was just a few years ago, it ran a similarly stupid piece earlier this year in which it described CIOs as socially inept bozos who are being "called out of the wiring closet" to help contribute to strategy discussions in these hard times. Is that how your boss sees you? If not, where does the sterotype come from? Let's take a look:

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