by Ade McCormack

Can a CIO be a visionary?

May 24, 2010
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

There is much talk about visionary leadership. There is some talk about CIO leadership. But there is very little talk about visionary CIOs.

But isn’t it the CEO’s role to be visionary while everyone else focuses on strategy? Where does this leave the CIO? Surely he has insights into the fast-moving world of technology that will not only shape the vision but seed it?

I think the idea of a CIO as visionary is plausible and should be approached in stages:

Step 1 – Be an IT visionary. Your focus will be operational and your role will sit outside the boardroom. The focus here is to inspire the troops by creating a compelling vision that galvanises the IT function into a genuine service organisation.

Step 2 – Be a visionary supplier. Your focus will be strategic and your role will remain outside the boardroom. This time you will be working closely with board members focusing on using new technologies that will help them progress their key imperatives.

Step 3 – Be a visionary advisor.You are in the boardroom, shaping the visions of your peers. You are now a co-creator of business strategy rather than a victim of it.

Step 4 – Be a visionary integrator. Your role now is to integrate the visions of fellow CxOs into a coherent organisational vision that is underpinned by a coherent business, information, knowledge and technology architecture. In fact this role is starting to look rather like a hybrid CIO-CEO.

So my vision is for the CEO and CIO to be one and the same person. Such people exist, but are few and far between in mature organisations saddled with 20th-century processes and attitudes.

The Icelandic ash cloud has presented a wonderful opportunity for CIOs to grab the collaboration baton from the vendors and take the technology into the boardroom, for example. No more executive downtime in the airport lounge; instant carbon footprint reduction and a more agile organisation.

But it’s simply not happening – a security nightmare, you say. So rather than being the hero of the hour you are known as the person who rains on other people’s parades. The Chief Visionary ‘Stiflement’ Officer.

In general, as the IT industry’s point man, you need to reassess your priorities in order that all of us who follow in your slipstream make a greater contribution to those that consume our product and services.

About the author:

Ade McCormack is an advisor on IT value and leadership. Follow him at