by Abbie Lundberg

Gluttons for Punishment: The Challenges of Being CIO

Feb 15, 20013 mins

In her Jan. 11, 2001, Sound Off column (, Senior Web Editor Martha Heller posed the question: What bugs CIOs? The responses poured in fast and furious, with close to 50 postings in the first couple of hours.

Reading through the comments, one has to ask the question: Why on earth would anyone become a CIO? These are virtual laundry lists of professional horrors: clueless CEOs, untrustworthy staff, untruthful vendors and consultants, suspicious business peers and unreasonable expectations by all.

Not all of the perspectives are despairing. Both in the Sound Off column and in the responses I’ve received to my column “The Myth of Alignment” (Dec. 15, 2000/Jan. 1, 2001), many readers have said enough already. CIOs (and CIO magazine) are perpetuating the disconnect between the business and IT by continuing to whine about it. “If we devoted our time and energy to being businesspeople that deliver results to our business partners, on time, within budget, with the functionality they needed, we would not have to talk about alignment?it would already be there,” wrote one CIO.

Another fellow agreed: “The formula [to achieve alignment] is: aggressive partnering with the business units; complete and thorough rationalization of projects (value proposition); a contemporary IT organizational model and careful selection and retention of professionals; and finally, execution and lifelong support.”

A third addressed the broader challenges of any manager: “Many years ago in my first management position, a very wise CFO told me that as long as I followed these principles we all would prosper: 1. Tell me what I need to know when I need to know it?not after the fact; 2. Tell me the truth. I can handle it. You are not here to be a ’yes’ man. If you have to do that to keep your job, then do something else?it’s not worth it; 3. Accept the fact that we will all fail at times during our business careers. Remember that failure is as much a learning experience as success.”

But such prescriptions hold little solace for CIOs like the one who writes, “Senior management has repeatedly asked me for direction, ignored my recommendations, screwed things up and then blamed me for the errors.”

So are CIOs gluttons for punishment? Based on some of the commentary, I have to say, some undoubtedly must be. But by far the more predominant trait that I’ve come to identify with CIOs is an almost obsessive addiction to challenge. As one IT executive said after describing a seemingly impossible situation, “If [the job] was boring and predictable, we would probably not be doing what we do!” To me, that sounds more heroic than anything.

What do you think? Check out the Sound Off postings and let me know at