by Martha Heller

Must the CIO Report to the CEO?

Nov 01, 20013 mins

I belong to an online discussion forum for CIOs, and I floated to the group what I thought was a given: For a company to achieve alignment between the business and IT, it is imperative that the CIO report to the CEO.

Many of the CIOs who weighed in on the issue agreed. “Without question the CIO must report to the CEO,” wrote one member of the group. “A CIO who reports to anyone other than the CEO is typically not invited to the highest level meetings, where the key decisions are made.”

“I am in my third CIO position and have reported to several executives, sometimes at the same company,” wrote another. “I have reported to the CEO, CFO, Chief Merchandising Officer (retail) and COO. Nothing worked as well as when I reported to the CEO. If you are at a level beneath another ‘C’, are you truly a peer to the group, positioned to do battle for resources, sell a strategy or come away with your part of the budget?”

But there were many dissenters in the forum, successful CIOs of aligned companies, who are perfectly happy not reporting to the CEO.

“In the scheme of things, it depends on the focus of your company, what is at its core,” wrote a member of the group. “If technology is a driver in your business and industry, then yes, the CIO should report to the CEO. If technology is not a competitive or operational differentiator, then I really don’t think it matters.”

“I don’t agree that the only way a company can achieve true alignment is if the CIO reports to the CEO,” wrote another. “What’s most important is that the CIO have the ‘audience’ with the company executives. Exactly, where the CIO reports is secondary.”

This split is mirrored in most research done on this issue. Nearly all of the surveys I have seen on the reporting structure of IT organizations find that roughly half of all CIOs report directly to the CEO. The other half report to the COO, CFO, or a business unit head.

We at CIO magazine spend a lot of time and ink encouraging the CIO to get to the strategy table, to build a solid relationship with the CEO and to educate him or her about the value of a wise IT investment strategy.

Can this be done in an organization where the CIO reports to anyone other than the CEO? Is it imperative that the CIO report to the CEO?