by Tim M. Crawford

7 key relationships for the transformational CIO

Sep 11, 2019
IT Leadership

As CIOs shift their focus from technology-centric to business-centric, there are seven key relationships that are fundamental to their success.

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Building strong, positive relationships has always been important for any executive. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is no different. As CIOs move from a traditional mindset to that of a transformational CIO, the importance of key relationships comes into focus. There are many relationships that the CIO must develop and nurture over time. While the degree and purpose of each relationship will differ, seven relationships are critical for today’s CIO success.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

In today’s world, technology is central to just about any business. The CIO must serve as a business leader first, that happens to have responsibility for technology. To be clear, this not the same as the ‘CEO of Technology’ which is an entirely different concept.

A strong relationship with the CEO serves a number of purposes. First, it provides alignment between the overall company strategy and business objectives while understanding where technology can best be leveraged. Second, a positive relationship with the CEO can open doors to other relationships and challenges. Third, the relationship with the CEO is the gateway to exposure and a relationship with the board of directors.

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

The Ternion Concept expresses the three core objectives for the CIO; Revenue growth, efficiency gains and customer engagement. The CMO is the executive typically responsible for leading customer engagement. Pair that with the fact that marketing cannot be done today without the use of technology and one can quickly see the power of the CMO-CIO relationship.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Many CIOs still report to the CFO. While this post is not a debate on who the CIO should report to, it does lay out the importance of maintaining a strong, positive relationship with the CFO. At the end of the day, the CFO controls the budget and investments that support the company’s strategy and objectives. They are often very clever in how they effectively manage the financials of the company. From a CIO perspective, IT efforts will tie closely into financials in one way or another.

Line of Business (LoB)/C-Suite

Beyond the CEO, CMO and CFO, the CIO must develop strong relationships with other key LoB executives and leaders in the c-suite. Those will vary depending on the company, their industry, products, maturity and culture. The CIO needs to determine which LoB and c-suite leaders are key to the success of the company. Those will be a good starting point for the CIO. Note that these will change over time, so it is important to keep tabs on the leaders and their roles.

Audit/Risk Leader

Most enterprises have an organization that is responsible for audit and/or risk for the organization. IT plays an increasingly more critical role in today’s world of regulatory and compliance requirements. By building a relationship with the leader of that organization, the CIO can understand what they will be looking for and their approach. In many ways, this relationship is intended to preemptively create a smoother experience for everyone when those audits or risk events come. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.


Procurement organizations are often seen by IT as a regular hurdle to getting new solutions in place, contracts negotiated, and pricing identified. A good way to build this relationship is by understanding the procurement process and objectives of the procurement team for your company. Each company is different, so don’t assume it is the same as your past companies. By understanding their approach, you can build trust that will provide greater freedom and streamline the process.

Board of Directors

This last relationship is one of the hardest for the CIO. Board members are often not technologically savvy and are business and/or financially minded. CIOs, on the other hand, are not typically business and/or financially minded. Nor does the CIO typically have exposure to the board of directors. Hence, the challenge with this relationship. Even so, this relationship is key for two reasons: a) differentiated company strategies rely heavily on technology and b) cybersecurity and risk.

Like any relationship, relationships do not happen overnight and take time to build. Remember that relationships are one-to-one, not one-to-many. The combination of respect and trust becomes the foundation for each relationship. As the CIO, consider going to where the other person is. Do not expect or ask them to come to you. This is not a statement of physical location but rather a statement of current state. Consider where the other person is and approach the relationship from their perspective. With time, the work put into developing and nurturing these relationships will pay dividends for a long time. The effort also sets a good example for your teams to follow.