by Charlotte Trueman

How CIOs and CEOs can form effective partnerships

Apr 11, 2019
CareersIT StrategyNetworking Devices

In today’s business landscape, every company is now a technology company to some degree, with tech giants, fast-food chains, non-profit organisations and every organisation in between needing to have an IT strategy in place to ensure continued existence.

As a result, CIOs are fast becoming one of the most integral members of the C-suite team, responsible for setting forth organisation-wide IT strategies that are fundamental to the success of the company.

Although more than half of CIOs now claim to meet with their CEO on a weekly basis, business success can only exist if those occupying these high-profile roles are willing to collaborate and have a mutual understanding of what is needed to drive the organisation forward.

Sixty-two percent of executives now have a programme in place to make their organisations more digital however, if a CEO is not willing to listen to the expertise of their Chief Information Officer, such projects will never get off the ground.

Teamwork is undoubtedly crucial at every level within an organisation but if those at the very top can’t get it right, there could be widespread consequences for a company.

Communication is key

Within technology companies, it’s usually fair to assume that the CEO will have a tech background or, at the very least, a comprehensive understanding of technology. For organisations that are not traditionally digital, it’s important for the CIO to properly communicate any IT strategy to ensure the CEO can understand why and how it will benefit the business.

Darryn Warner, CIO at Dog Star Solutions, uses a combination of storytelling and information sharing to ensure that the company’s technology agenda is well understood by both the CEO and board.

“I take the various business change activities across the group and categorise them into stories that can be easily understood by the boards,” he told CIO UK in a 2017 interview.

“I am also sharing collateral – be it a view of the cyber-threat landscape, Harvard insights into culture, innovation ideas via different audio and video media – to help improve their understanding of technology and its potential.”

With the business landscape evolving so dramatically over recent years, so too has the role of the CIO. Chief Information Officers are now routinely being challenged to use IT strategies and solutions not only to advance digitalisation but to simultaneously drive business innovation and transformation, meaning many are taking on a more strategic business role than that of their technologically driven predecessors.

As a result, another tactic often employed by CIOs is to explain the impact of any IT strategy by relating it to business outcomes.

“For a CIO to gain credibility with the CEO and board, they need to talk in terms of business outcomes,” says Radius Payment Solutions CIO, Dave Roberts.

Harvey Nichols Group Technology and Innovation Director, Fatima Zada, agrees. “[Harvey Nichols] are now quite a digitally savvy company, and this approach is now embedded into all departments of the business,” she told CIO UK in 2017.

“I have to constantly provide input on digital and technology in terms of education as this is not a one-time approach but a constant discussion point that needs to be assessed strategically and tactically, especially as the business changes.”

Instigating regular and meaningful conversations like the above will help to cement the CIO as a trusted member of the C-suite team and ensure that IT is given the consideration it deserves.

Support each other

In a 2018 CEO survey undertaken by Gartner, it was found that the majority of CEOs understand the importance of having a comprehensive IT strategy in place but need support from their CIO to help drive any meaningful digital change.

However, the survey also found that many CEOs have had to adjust their expectations regarding digital strategies as the difficulties, costs and realistic benefits have become clearer. This means it’s vital that CEOs and CIOs are able to work together to find a middle ground that ensures IT needs are met, but not in a way which compromises the integrity of the CEO and the needs of the business.

While CEOs now need the support of Chief Information Officers to drive real transformative change within a company, the CIO needs an equal amount of support from their CEO to ensure that any strategy is implemented and understood at every level of an organisation.

Laura Dawson, CIO at the London School for Economics, explained the benefits of having a supportive CEO to further digital initiatives.

“My chief executive is very technically savvy,” she said. “He’s come from a startup and has got that mentality.

“He can open doors for the team, have conversations and that’s what he has done more than anything else. He has made it important for everyone from the finance officer to the HR director to understand that we are a technology business too.”

Highlighting the importance of IT to those on the C-suite executive team who might not be so technologically inclined is a must for businesses that want to survive and thrive in this age of ongoing digital disruption.

Nevertheless, allowing CIOs a seat at the table is just the beginning. Without a strong and mutually understanding relationship between the CEO and the CIO, any strategy, no matter how innovative, will ever get off the ground.