The Four Horsemen of the CIO Apocalypse

There are a number of 'horsemen' who if not managed with great care could steer your career into a cul-de-sac. Let's meet them.

First up is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) – Getting attention is what marketers do. And that skill is also used to get the boardroom's attention. We saw it through the Dotcom era where CIOs were quick to flag the functional capabilities of an e-commerce website. But the CMO sold the CEO a vision of a new business model and the potential of having access to a global market. That led to a temporary phase of madness where hapless CIOs found themselves reporting into clueless CMOs.

I and other CIO writers have covered the emerging tensions between the CIO and the CMO. The reality is that the CMO does not want your job or empire they simply want world class digital services.

If you cannot provide such services the CMO has no choice but to go elsewhere. That is happening and consequently more and more of the IT budget is by-passing the IT function. As organisations embrace the customer experience and as that leads to seismic business transformation it is likely that your share of the CIO will dwindle to such a level that the need for an in-house IT function will be thrown into question.

If CIOs are not careful this particular horseman will inflict on you death by budgetary famine.

Next we have the Chief Finance Officer (CFO) – This has always been an uneasy relationship. They are focused on cost, you are focused on value. But the inability to articulate value in 'spreadsheet filling' terms results in all conversations reverting to cost.

Their alpha behaviour has resulted in their primary focus being to subjugate the CIO. Think new CFO that mandates a new enterprise applications solution across the organisation even though that doesn't sit neatly with your carefully designed enterprise architecture. But she's the boss so you do what you are told and sit back to witness the car crash with your career sitting belt-free in the front passenger seat.

CIOs being CIOs typically will not retreat on the principle that they are right. But from a boardroom politics perspective, being smart often trumps being right. As far as this horseman is concerned if you want a war you will get one and there will only be one winner.

The youngest horseman is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). To me this is the role that was meant for the CIO. But it appears that 'digital' is boardroom code for 'strategic IT' whereas the term IT is trimmed to refer to 'operational IT'. So while many CIOs were busy putting out fires in the data centre this upstart rode into the C-suite.

They don't even have to worry about their branding as the job specification was designed to be strategic. As CIOs wake up to the emerging status quo they will realise that their skillset needs to be expanded if they are to seize their rightful role. Unfortunately this horseman will have delivered their conquest before many CIOs become aware that there was a battle to be fought.

Perhaps the most chilling horseman is you, the CIO. You have achieved great things in reaching the most senior IT role in the end-user arena. Your cold logic and technology smarts have enabled you to plan your ascent with military precision. You may have even set it out in a Gantt chart.

But these skills do not seem to be serving you so well today. Your attempts to become part of the leadership team seem a logical next step given the importance of IT in the emerging digital economy.

But it's not happening and no doubt is a source of great vexation. So you are in fact the lead horseman in respect of your career death.

If after this apocalyptic sermon you are still reading I admire your tolerance for pain and apologise for perhaps overegging and certainly generalising about the plight of the CIO. In any case the points are relevant to the IT leadership community as a whole.

Those trained in the art of fighting know that when it comes to multiple (horsemen) attacks it is best to direct your efforts to the leader. A fallen leader can quickly dishearten the rest of the gang. As we have seen the leader of the attack in this case is you.

I work with CIOs across the world in respect of improving the strategic relevance of CIOs. The biggest obstacle to developing the skills necessary to ensure an upward career trajectory is to free up enough mental bandwidth to simply reflect on the skills gap between where you are and where you intend to get to.

If necessary book meetings with yourself to ensure you have thinking time to reflect on what is and isn't working in terms of your career journey. It would also be time well spent to reflect on how the world is changing (by the way, your premium rate analyst data feed is not a reliable source in this respect). The number of CIOs I have met who have never heard of the CDO role is sobering.

If you don't do this then you certainly won't be in a position to assess your own personal development requirements in respect of enhancing your strategic relevance in a changing world.

But rest assured that if the day comes when you arrive for work to find three horses tethered in the executive car park you had better gallop off in the opposite direction.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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