The other day, I found myself aghast by the onstage passions of learned men—those who had absolutely no kind words for the CIO. I tried to get up from my seat in the audience with a wish to raise my voice against what was going on (CIO bashing), but something invisible pulled me back. The 400+ audience comprised largely business folks (with probably a handful of CIOs), and that was their reality. I felt sad, as I internally seethed with no avenue to vent my feelings. I wanted to tell the poor audience that the CIO does not stand for Chief Invisible Officer—or clarify that they are not CDOs (Chief Disinformation Officers). So I began to analyze their reality, hoping to catch some of them later during the event. But, let me start from the beginning.
The event was a leadership summit attended by a cross section of global CEOs, Board Members, CXOs from various functions, and a few invited CIOs who were categorized as business leaders—not just a technology CIO. The setting was a panel discussion between few thought leaders, a senior Asian government bureaucrat, and a couple of CEOs; the topic, the economy, growth challenges and opportunities. Everyone was enjoying the insights and the rich knowledge being shared, as the subject veered towards business analytics, IT and the CIO.
It was evident that for most speakers that the CIO was an inept technical being—rarely visible except when something stops working like the Boardroom projector or WIFI. Beings for whom the phrase Business IT alignment (BITA) is foreign, while IT feeds the hapless business with inaccurate information. They evidently experienced the CIO’s challenged ability to come up to a level of basic understanding of business drivers. The CIO contributing to business discussions was alien to them. Thundered a bureaucrat, “I have only seen Chief Disinformation Officers, not Chief Information Officers …” Others almost broke off into a spontaneous applause.
Though a CEO did appear a bit uncomfortable, he did not consider it prudent to disagree. The thought leader commented on the CIO’s ability to stay invisible most of the time, and thus christened him “Chief Invisible Officer”.
As I walked out of the auditorium thinking about this discussion’s various aspects, I reflected on my experiences within my multiple CIO roles, interactions with peer CIOs, vendor speak, and discussions with CXOs across enterprises big and small. My reality appeared a lot different from what I had heard from the Magi, who have seen more of the world than I have, but from a different frame of reference.
Are CIOs living in illusions of grandeur in their castles far removed from reality or the experiences, especially of the government speaker as an exception? With some relief, I recollected many Indian enterprise CEOs talking positively about the contributions made by their CIOs and IT organizations. Of certain CIOs who have also took additional charge of business, as well as a few CIOs who have also led cross-functional enterprise projects that made a difference in difficult times.
I guess reality is multi-faceted and not bipolar. Everyone reflects their reality and experience; the world is full of diversity that cannot be captured into a stereotype. Many CIOs I know would react similarly upon hearing about the above discussion, while a few CEOs (hopefully none) may actually be able to associate with the panel’s experiences. As enterprises invest significantly in IT enabling the enterprise, they also recognize the importance of a CIO leader who can walk lockstep with other CXOs while working towards achieving excellence using technology driven efficiencies and innovation.
I believe that a consistent movement is required towards spreading the good work done by many CIOs in conjunction with their CEOs. The learning from these can be applied towards improving the kith and kin. It is also important to talk about and discuss the challenges faced so that everyone does not have to rediscover them as a part of evolution—not just in CIO events, but also in industry and other CXO events. After all, the wheel needs to be discovered only once, and then it’s about replicating success.