by Rob Enderle

How a CIO Can Save an Incompetent CEO

Apr 19, 20136 mins
Big DataCIOIT Leadership

When a bad CEO goes down, the CIO often goes down with him. The way to save yourself, and your company, is to invest in the analytics technology that gives the CEO the data necessary to make smart business decisions. It doesn't hurt that it also shows why the CIO is more valuable to the CEO than other C-level executives.

This is the last in a three-part series that began with the seven habits of highly successful CEOs and continued with the seven ways to could get CEOs fired. I’ll end by talking about how the CIO can take an otherwise failing CEO and help him flourish.

Now, you might ask why you’d want to do this. CIOs have a relatively short half-life. According to Gartner, which talk to a lot of CIOs, it’s about three years. (This means about half have a shorter career and half have a longer job stint.) CMOs, generally thought to have one of the highest turnover rates in the industry, actually average a much better 43 months, according to Forbes.

What’s interesting is that, back in 2007, CFOs had a 28-month average, while CIOs were at about 53 months. Now it appears that CFO turnover is declining, while CIO turnover is going the other direction. I can’t help but think that CFOs are pushing a lot of CIOs under the bus as they making changes when new CEOs come in, and there is a lot of CEO churn these days.

It appears, anecdotally, that the longevity of the CIO may be relatively closely tied to the longevity of both the CEO and CFO. It also seems that CFOs have been getting better at protecting their butts, while CIOs have gotten worse. In short, it’s likely in both the CFO’s and CIO’s best interests that the CEO isn’t replaced—but the CIO is better able to assure this than the CFO is.

Discussion: CIOs Sound Off on a Role in Flux

I’m not picking on CEOs, by the way. It’s just that almost none of them are trained for the job, and they generally land in it with inadequate support, surrounded by former peers who lost out the CEO job. They need all the help they can get.

How Data Analytics Can Protect the CEO

The CIO is arguably the most critical resource for a CEO. The COO lacks the tools to save the CEO. The CFO can assure that no big financial mistakes take out the CEO, but he can’t keep a CEO who isn’t competent from appearing incompetent. The vice president of sales will likely brutalize the CEO, and, with the possible exception of Hewlett-Packard, heads of human resources are generally underfunded and overwhelmed and don’t have the bandwidth.

Commentary: How HR Is Driving HP’s Turnaround

CIOs, however, can implement programs that capture data both from internal and external operations. If they focus on drilling through the misinformation that typically surrounds an unsuccessful CEO, they are uniquely suited to save the CEO’s butt.

There are three things the CEO needs to better prepare for: Financial analysts, board meetings and to decision-making. She need to know what’s going on internally—issues with internal company performance, for example—before these problems adversely impact revenues. (For instance, it’s been suggested that the recent firing of J.C. Penney CEO Rob Johnson was likely the result of deep staff cuts that crippled performance). Tracey Keogh, a Harvard alumna and, now, executive vice president of HR at HP, is the IT executive doing thus job better than anyone else right now.

EMC, too, has implemented a massive internal analytics program to build metrics around customers, service and sales to identify problems, build better products and, soon, instrument competitors’ customers. This information will be used to make product decisions but also tells the CEO just where to put resources to optimize the company. (Jim Bampos, the man behind this program, recently left EMC to help other companies do the same thing.)

Finally, the CEO needs to have a clean feed of environmental information. I don’t mean whether or not we’re cooking the planet with global warming but, rather, the critical information about competitors, regulations and other factors impacting the company from the outside. The best folks doing this job tend to come from the pharmaceutical industry.

Tips: What CEOs Want and Expect From CIOs

More: How CIOs Can Become Business Forecasters

With this information, the staff supporting the CEO can assure he’s fully informed about the internal resources he has and the external challenges he must overcome. From the CFO he’ll have a good idea of their financial resources, while the HR director, sales manager and line organization heads will be better informed than their competitive counterparts—all thanks to analytics properly implemented for each organization.

How to Get Funding for Your Analytics Efforts

Proving the return on an analytics investment is a multi-step process.

  • Find a department that has implemented some form of analytics.
  • Make sure the results are refined.
  • Get the data them in front of the relevant executive.
  • Make sure the CEO knows the data was sourced from your organization’s efforts.

If you did it right, the CEO will become an advocate, much like Joe Tucci at EMC. You’ll then have the beginning of a plan to assure that any CEO who gets the job will be more informed than his peers. In short, unless the CEO is a complete idiot, he should see the value in both his own prowess and his ability to better run the company to prioritize deeper investments.

How-to: CIOs Can Help Their Companies Survive Industry Disruption

More: CIOs Can Be Catalysts for Change in Postdigital Enterprise

I saw this happen at Dell years ago, with far less capable tools than we have today. The end result turns the IT department into a hero organization credited with executive job satisfaction and longevity. There’s a good chance that, wherever any of those executives go, they will want you with them. Even if your CEO turns out to be a complete idiot, do this well and you’ll have champions who will make sure your career is a long, successful one.

Information is power. Never forget that the “I” in IT and CIO means “information.” It’s your job, and your key advantage, to be able to provide the information a potentially incompetent CEO needs to be an incredibly competent one.

I’ve said that big data success is all in the analysis. Get this right and you’ll likely never have to worry about CIO turnover again.

Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.

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