by Paul T. Cottey

The case for hiring an internal-facing CIO

Jul 17, 2017
CIOIT Leadership

When hiring a CIO, it's not clear whether he or she should be internal- or external-facing. In this post, the first of two parts, I make the case for an internal-facing CIO.

Man standing in open doorway in large empty green warehouse
Credit: Thinkstock

First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. – Luke 6:42

Hiring a VP of Sales who is focused internally, makes no sense. A salesperson is, by definition, in the business of being focused outward from the company to its customers and clients. When hiring a Chief Information Officer, on the other hand, it is not so clear whether he/she should be focused on the internal operations of IT or on engaging with the non-IT employees and the company’s customers and clients.

In this first of two posts, I’ll make the case for having an internal-facing CIO.

The good

IT is treated like the full-time job it is. There is no substitute for the leader of a department, IT included, to have first-hand, intimate, constant contact with the day-to-day operations. Leading IT is not a job in which a CIO can “dabble” or in which he/she can choose to dip in and out of when needed.

An internal-facing CIO is the more typical type of CIO, and so this type of CIO plays to the expectations of the rest of the organization. The glow-in-the-dark complexion from never seeing the light of day is somehow comforting to the rest of the organization since it means the CIO is on the case!

There is less competition from bright, shiny objects (BSOs). Being immersed in the day-to-day can help a CIO avoid getting distracted by BSO’s he/she finds in the marketplace. The CIO’s focus can be on keeping the company’s current operations humming along.

The CIO is always present, not out speaking at some conference at a resort (off-season, of course). When something bad happens, the CIO is around and able to dig in to help out. The CIO may not be the subject-matter expert on the cause of the problem and its resolution, but typically the CIO has a level-head and the experience to drive a resolution process.

The bad

Without a CIO who is out telling the story of the value of IT, IT can be seen as a cost to be managed down. There is no value to something that is invisible. When was the last time you got excited about the 20.95% of oxygen in the air?

It is easy for IT to be judged only by its failures. Again, without a CIO communicating about the value being driven by IT, it is easier for IT to be known and recognized only for the mistakes it makes.

It can be difficult for a customer or client who has an outward-facing CIO to find his/her counterpart in your organization. Without finding that person who can mirror his/her enthusiasm for and knowledge of IT, it can be more difficult for the customer or client to feel a connection to your company.

The it-depends

Not every company or industry has the same needs for its CIO. If what you are selling is disciplined operations, having an internal-facing CIO may make good sense. If what you are selling is innovation and speed-to-value, having an externally-facing CIO may be more important.

Next time, the case for hiring an external-facing CIO.