Skip navigation

[Webinar Recap] The CIO Paradox – Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership


on January 30, 2014

Last week, we welcomed CIO magazine Contributing Editor  Martha Heller to present her findings on the paradoxical nature of the CIO role.  When faced with contradictions like “be innovative, but cut costs” and “deliver quickly, without under delivering” these IT leaders need to find ways to “attack, reverse, or neutralize these challenges.” A recording of this webinar can be found here.

Heller uses several examples from her experience working with CIOs to illustrate some of the contradictions that they face regularly, and presents sound advice for alleviating them. Her solutions revolve largely around enabling a mutually beneficial partnership with business units and project sponsors; a strategy we are very keen on here at Mendix. Keep reading to a closer look at a few of those contradictions.

Accountability vs. Ownership

Depending on who you talk to, executives often describe projects as business projects or IT projects. When you talk to the CIO, all projects are business projects. They all have an expected business outcome and potential added value. But when you talk to the CEO, particularly regarding failed projects, they’re suddenly IT projects. One CIO went as far as to say there are two types of projects: business successes and IT failures. Tweet This The ability to share ownership and accountability with the business is one issue that CIOs struggle with all the time, Heller says.

  • The resolution to this issue is all about transparency: providing a way to share accountability and ownership. One way is to focus on costs. The more you can give business accountability for their own IT spend, the better. The more you give business control over variable IT costs, the more empowered they’ll feel. When they feel accountable for IT successes, it will improve the way your teams work together.
  • Another way is to never mistake governance for transparency. If you’re relying on your governance strategy to create a structure of shared accountability, you’re going to wind up suffering from this paradox. Too many companies set up governance committees that become curtains that they hide behind when push comes to shove. Attending governance meetings by no means communicates shared accountability in most organizations.
  • If you can’t rely on governance to establish shared accountability, what can you rely on? The answer is in those small individual private conversations you have with your peers; the other stakeholders of any IT investment. Look them in the eye and say this is our shared project. By harnessing that relationship, you can create accountability and transparency.. If you can’t find that mutual accountability, then the project probably isn’t worth taking on.

Cost vs. Innovation

In order to innovate, you have to build waste (read: expense) into your process. It’s the cost of trying out a new way of doing something. That’s problematic for most CIOs, who have extremely little budget to waste, if at all. So how can you be the person that says “Sure, let’s give it a whirl and see if it works” sometimes, but also be in the mindset of “absolutely not, not on my watch, costs too much, we have to keep this cheap”? Heller says the trick is to be a chameleon… Tweet This

“When CIOs first started out, they were the ‘accidental CIO’ – sometime in the 70s or early 80s, they were in an accounting role and saw some stupid manual processes so they wrote some software and before you knew it, they’d automated something and were made MIS directors and then CIOs. So they had to know something about technology to become a CIO.”

“Then, along comes packaged software, and the skillset was all about project management. Then along comes the ERP, and the skillset was all about business process reengineering. Then along comes outsourcing, and now the skillset was more vendor management. They’re developing all these skills, and moving from being a technologist to being a business person. Today, where its social, mobility, cloud computing, and analytics – they now have to know business model reengineering, or business channel reengineering. It’s using these new technologies and completely changing who we are as a company and how we sell what we sell.”

“CIOs have to be able to have a vision for how your company interacts with its customers–for how the entire company is going to change—and be able to sell that vision. CIOs that have been very operational often don’t have the skillset to be innovative, and even if they do, they’re not positioned that way. If you can be a chameleon, and you can use your innovative DNA and your platform of being respected as a visionary and an innovator – that means you can become the leader of your company’s technology-driven business strategy; their digital strategy. If you’re not positioned that way, or you don’t have that DNA, you’ll have to let some of that authority go to new titles coming in like Chief Technology Officer and Chief Digital Officers, and stick to a more operational role like Chief Process Services, or Chief Business Services. The trick to being a chameleon is to understanding how much of a chameleon you can be.”

Many of the CIOs we speak with are adopting business driven rapid application delivery because they have that innovative DNA. They want to give enterprise application users an all-around better experience in the creation and evolution of their applications. We look forward to seeing more CIOs take on this role as an innovator.

View the webinar on-demand to hear Martha Heller’s advice for three more CIO Paradoxes.