by Edward Prewitt

Why CIOs can’t talk with their CEO

Mar 01, 20033 mins
IT Leadership

CIOs long chafed under the miserly rule of the chief financial officer. So when this magazine’s 2002 “State of the CIO” survey found that a slim majority of CIOs now report to their CEO instead, it was good news. Or was it? According to another report, many CIOs are chafing under the uninformed rule of CEOs.

Nearly a quarter of CIOs believe their CEO is incapable of making an informed and fair assessment of their performance, according to the results of “The CIO on the CEO,” a survey of 200 CIOs conducted last spring by John J. Davis & Associates, a New York City-based executive search firm specializing in IT. Eight percent of respondents described their CEO’s understanding of IT as completely inadequate, and 16 percent said it was barely adequate.

So do those results mean the remaining 76 percent of CEOs are reading up on IT in their spare time? Not exactly. The survey’s respondents painted a fairly bleak picture of the state of CIO-CEO relations:

n Forty-eight percent of the CIOs said their CEO usually or sometimes has unrealistic expectations of what IT can accomplish.

n Thirty-five percent said their CEO is not supportive or only somewhat supportive of their work and the IT function.

Part of this parlous state is due to the current recession, says John J. Davis, president of the search firm. In search of reduced costs, CEOs are alighting on IT. “It seems IT has taken the biggest brunt of the down times. I’ve been in this business a long time and never seen it this bad,” he says.

Even so, Davis believes the root causes of the CIO-CEO disconnect are unrelated to economic ups and downs. He points to a generational lag among CEOs, who tend to have entered the workforce before IT became a driver in corporate strategies. The second and more important underlying cause, he says, is CEOs lack of education about the value and uses of IT.

The blame for such ignorance must be laid at the feet of CIOs as well as their boss, Davis believes. “It could be that you, Mr. CIO, aren’t properly articulating the value of IT. The CEO is focused on a lot of things besides IT. If the CIO hasn’t been doing a good job on education all along, it’s not surprising that the CEO doesn’t understand [IT],” he says. Conversely, some hands-on training might convert CEOs from powerful-but-inept users into power users.