On a cross-country plane ride a few years back, I happened to sit next to a CIO on his way to a customer advisory board meeting. I don’t get to meet many CIOs, so I took the opportunity to ask him questions the entire flight (much to the annoyance of everyone around us). As we de-boarded the plane, he gave me his card and asked me to keep in touch. I gave it a valiant effort, actually. We exchanged several emails, got connected on social networks, and even met for dinner when he came out for one of the mega-tech-events they put on at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
But then I had a baby and lost touch with him for a year. After I came up for air, I started wondering how he was doing. So I looked up his profile on LinkedIn and had quite a shock: he was still at the same company, but his title had changed. It said, Director of Technology Integration. I thought, “Did he get demoted? That’s almost worse than getting fired!” And then I thought, “Then why not get the heck out of Dodge? Why stay?” He seemed like a competent guy, though I thought it was a little strange that he was so enthusiastic about being able to expand server capacity by going to Fry’s and “throwing some gear together” rather than “paying premium pricing for servers.” That, and the fact that he was still running all DAS (Direct-Attached Storage), no SAN (Storage Area Networking) or NAS (Network-Attached Storage). You might think his company was a Mom and Pop, but it was actually about $500 million a year in revenue! But even so, what could he possibly have been demoted for?
There’s a white paper from Silverton Consulting Group on exactly this topic: “4 Reasons Why CIOs Lose Their Jobs.” According to the paper, the top 4 reasons CIOs get fired are:
1. Security breaches
Security breaches leading to significant losses of personal data are spectacularly newsworthy and unfortunately, much more frequent in this day and age. Even if blame can be traced to other places (like backup vendors, poorly trained administrators), it is often the CIO who pays for it.
2. Project boondoggles
Project boondoggles are those interminable, overbloated, and overhanging IT projects that just never complete, or if they do, under-deliver on significant functionality. Usually the culprit here is cost escalation, which can happen when the project team overestimates their understanding of the technology and understimates the “things that could go wrong.”
3. Availability failures
Availability failures are when IT teams fail to recover critical applications in time (like after a major disaster). Silverton Consulting cites an older study by CIO magazine that inability to recover from disasters was the #2 reason for CIO dismissal. DR plans need to be consistently tested and exercised and updated, so that ad hoc plans don’t have to be created at critical moments.
4. System collapse
Finally, system collapse is cited as the #4 reason why CIOs get pink slips. Although this happens but infrequently, Silverton writes, system failures are not the result of disaster, but rather of the company’s own success, say, because of a viral video or massively engaging campaign. Systems “seize up or stop operating from the massive overload,” bringing down all activity…and with them, the CIO.
All of these seemed plausible, but didn’t sound like my friend. His company was B2B, not in a highly regulated industry, not likely to hold onto sensitive pieces of personally identifiable information, privately held, not located in a disaster-prone zone, and not likely to garner a ton of social media attention. Maybe I’ll never know what happened to dethrone my friend; I’ll certainly never ask him. It doesn’t matter anyway…what matters is that when I went to look him up again six months ago, he was at a totally different company. Not in the CIO chair, perhaps, but still a very respectable position. I’m happy for him…and I hope he’s thriving!