by Byron Connolly

Signs you’re not being a CIO

Jul 29, 20135 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Everyone’s talking about what the CIO role may look like in the future. But when dealing with the here and now, what makes an individual CIO a genuine business leader?

And are there signs that maybe you’re still just seen as the ‘IT guy’ and not a peer of the other c-levels? Are you not getting any love from the board? Are you going to lunch too often? Have you got a screwdriver on your desk?

According to former chair of the CIO Executive Council’s Advisory Board, Peter Nevin, and CIO Executive Council Pathways Advanced training partner, Rob Livingstone, there are some warning signs that you may not be acting like a true IT leader despite what it may say on your business card.

1. You’re being told to cut the IT budget.

“You should be determining what part of your budget is cut,” says Peter Nevin, CIO at fertility organisation, Genea.

“You should know the business, have a barometer across it and know what’s going on.”

Nevin recalls a time at a previous employer where he volunteered an IT budget cut to help the organisation recover from financial difficulty. He was part of the organisation’s executive team, which enabled him to more easily work closely with other senior executives to find a solution.

“In that particular case, we knew we were going to have two or three lean years and at the end of that, we were going to have a massive upswing so we started to sweat assets, which we could do quite easily because we knew things were going to swing back again later.

“It’s about working in with what the business is doing rather than having it imposed on you,” Nevin says.

Related: Finding the future-state CIO.

2. You’re not influencing others.

There is a subtle art of helping influential others realise how their decisions affect the business.

A CIO may need to explain the consequences of a lack of IT resources on the security and availability of core business systems to other c-level staff so they might reconsider it.

“Steering the conversation about [the impact on the] business is key,” Livingstone says.

He adds that not helping other executives realise the potential value of information to their businesses is also a no-no.

“This could be small or big data; you essentially need to have the conversation [with other c-level execs] to help the organisation see itself in a broader context,” says Livingstone.

“CIOs are well placed [to contribute to this conversation] because they have a broad perspective of the functions of an organisation.

“They are not limited to a particular vertical or silo; they have a horizontal perspective across the entire organisation and can see something of value in a particular part of the business where the individual function or executives may not have that same perspective,” he says.

3. You’re not communicating properly with non-technical people.

Explaining the complexity of IT to non-technical staff is a skill that many technologists simply do not have.

CIOs that are engaging extensively with non-technical folk within the business are better placed to understand the potential context and value of technology, says Livingstone.

“If a big data exercise is being done in an organisation and the CIO is only really discussing and exploring issues with data practitioners and vendors – evangelists that don’t understand the subtleties of the business and the industry they are working in – they [CIOs] might be limiting their potential.”

4. You don’t know your company’s customers.

“If you look at any successful CIOs on boards, they will talk about their organisation and what it delivers – they will be passionate and know details about it,” says Nevin.

He adds that knowing this information completely changes the way you look at systems and how you can achieve outcomes for your organisation.

Further, being able to contribute to the discussion and provide useful information if, for instance, your organisation mergers with another, is vital, he says.

5. You’re not applying innovation.

Last but definitely not least, it’s great to be innovative but not if you are not applying it correctly to your organisation.

“I think most IT people that come to the table are outrageously innovative – they’ll be thinking about leading edge technologies,” Nevin says.

But what’s important is the practical application of that innovation as part of the decision-making process, he says.

“It’s about finding solutions for problems as opposed to finding ways to use things. I’ve seen that happen in a few organisations that have deployed incredibly complex technology for problems that could have been solved more simply,” says Nevin.

Do you agree or disagree? Are there other, more important signs that we have missed? Byron Connolly can be contacted at or leave a comment below.