The Challenges of Being a CIO

With technology being an essential part of any successful business, the importance and need for a Chief Information Officer is at all-time high. Many new CIOs, however, struggle with adapting to this constantly evolving role and have difficulty communicating the importance of their contribution to the rest of the company leadership. Below are some of the challenges every CIO must be prepared to face.

Leadership Challenges

CIOs today face two major day-to-day challenges, acceptance and relevance, says Joe Puglisi, Partner at Versento LLC and a former Fortune 500 CIO. Being accepted as an equal member of the CXO management team is a major struggle. CIOs are frequently overly concerned about the technology alone and do not visualize themselves as a key part of the management structure. This frequently leads to an environment in which the rest of the management characterizes the CIO is the “senior IT guy” and, as a result, not perceived as being an equal.

“This puts the CIO in an awkward box that is hard to break out of,” says Puglisi. “They must behave, speak, think, and contribute to the business in the same way as the rest of the C-suite does to be accepted and not just taken as the guy who runs the computer center,” he adds. This struggle, he says, is more prevalent in smaller organizations with more limited resources.

Getting out of the Engine Room

The most important piece of advice, as Puglisi points out, is for the CIO to “get out of the engine room.” Imagine you are on a cruise, on a large ocean liner, enjoying your time off. At what point during the trip, do you go downstairs to the engine room and thank the guys working there for doing a great job? Hardly anyone ever thinks of that. If a cruise ship has an issue with the engines, however, it’s a major problem – the ship is crippled and everyone is angry with you. The same applies to the IT department. If everything runs well, no one notices you’re even there, but if you screw up, everybody is after you.

The CIO needs to get away from the engine room. When you do that and go up on the deck – how do you dress? Do you wear your greasy overalls? No! What do you talk about? About the pressure in the boilers? RPM of the turbines? No! These things mean nothing to people outside of the engine room. How about you say: We’re making some improvements in the engine room and we will be able to move from one port to the next in two less days. Will they understand and support that? Yes! Similarly for a CIO to talk about CPU cycles, gigabytes, terabytes, etc., is just not going to have the desired effect. Your objective is to be one of the officers up on deck, ensuring the passengers are happy and, ultimately, on the bridge helping the Captain operate more efficiently and even chart a few new courses.

Redistribution of Budget

“You often hear about this dichotomy between the CIO and the CMO, and you read articles saying the CMO is getting the CIO’s budget – well, that’s just not true. It is just the manifestation of the IT compute utility – the ease with which one can now buy services that previously were only generated, created, or supported by the internal IT team.” The CIO isn’t losing his budget – he has lost the captive audience and must seek funding for higher value projects. This ties directly back to the issue of being relevant. “If you want to be relevant, don’t argue with the CMO about where to buy the basic compute power. Today, it is a cheap commodity. One should bring to the CMO some innovation, something unique to the company, and that gives the company an edge in the market. That is how the CIO can get some of the CMOs spend!”

Technology Challenges

In addition to the leadership challenges, there are a number of technology challenges that CIOs have to tackle.

Security is, not surprisingly, on the top of everyone’s list, not just the CIO’s. With breaches reported almost on daily basis, and large companies often being the targets, it is a concern that the entire leadership shares. Puglisi believes the number one security weakness is “the guy at the keyboard.”

“I do not believe there are any silver bullets. I don’t care what firewall, antivirus, web filtering system you might have in place. You will always be exposed if you haven’t properly trained, coached, and monitored behavior of employees.”

Cloud is really changing the field of computing. “CIOs need to recognize that the value they’re bringing to the company is no longer creating this compute utility. It’s a commodity you can buy – all you need is a credit card,” Puglisi points out. Cloud has leveled the playing field because the same computing power is available to everyone. “It has enabled businesses of all sizes, from the enormous down to the mom and pop store to have access to the same caliber of compute power, memory and storage.”

IoT is computing everywhere, by using any kind of device. The advent of smart devices has radically changed the landscape. Everything from smart watches to smart cars is now part of one continuum of smart devices and CIOs need to recognize that.

In the end, if you are able to tackle the challenges we’ve discussed, you will surely reap the fruits of your efforts. It may not be easy, but then, is anything easy really rewarding?

Comment below and let us know what challenges you face and how you have learned to overcome them.

Joseph Puglisi is a senior business and technology professional with extensive experience managing complex business and technical environments across industries. He has repeatedly maximized the effectiveness of existing staff and improved relationships with business leaders. Mr. Puglisi is adept at building and leading teams and creating cross-functional partnerships to deliver on business initiatives. He has particular strengths in leadership, strategic vision, innovation and communication. Mr. Puglisi writes a column View from the Bridge covering business and technology from a management perspective and other personal observations.