The 2013 CIO 100 champagne reception was an entertaining evening of thoughtful conversation, insight and humour. One recurrent soundbite was that 'CEOs get the CIOs they deserve', reflecting how top calibre CIOs have both backing and buy-in at the highest levels to deliver their true value. Many CxOs spoke positively about their leadership teams, welcoming the support and space they had to deliver the leadership, innovation, challenge and transformation the role demands.
It's surely no coincidence that so many CIO 100 attendees highlighted a constructive, mutually-supportive relationship with their organisation's leadership teams. It was a refreshing contrast to encounters with less successful organisations, who continue to mistake their CTO and CIO roles as peripheral, as technicians rather than business leaders, as if technology is somehow merely an unpleasant overhead to be kept at arm’s length from the board.
Such narrow views of the role of technology provide a sad reminder of the poor calibre of some CIOs, who function more as glorified technicians and contract managers, happiest buried in long meetings shuffling acres of arse-covering paperwork. Such miscast colleagues undermine the wider technology community, placing themselves, their PR minders, lumbering technology and incumbent suppliers at the centre of their world rather than their users. Yet when the rubber hits the road, they lack the essential leadership, technical insight, innovation and implementation skills the role demands. Instead of adapting to utilise new technology and to better meet their users' needs, their efforts remain obsessively directed into resisting change, clinging desperately on to centralised models that impose one-size-fits-all technology and monolithic procurement models that long since outlived any legitimacy.
In contrast, our best digital leaders understand that technology continually shapeshifts and evolves, necessitating the ability to adapt and lead organisational change when others around them fear and resist it. It's at such times that our best CxOs distinguish themselves from the pack, overcoming inertia to provide organisational leadership as they improve user services, breaking old bad habits and out-dated practices in the process.
It was obvious why the invited CxOs had made the top 100 list. Many had already completed the journey from old style thinking, reinventing their organisations and moving their IT services determinedly away from being the biggest blockers to innovation. Instead, they were working with smaller, innovative local suppliers to break down their user needs into a set of distinct requirements met by a diversity of solutions, from cloud-based commodity services such as office productivity to user device choice and independence.
If it’s true that 'CEOs get the CIOs they deserve’, then the CIO 100 provides insight into organisations with leadership teams at the top of their game – where CxOs manage both to improve user productivity and user satisfaction whilst simultaneously cutting costs and complexity. The publication of the CIO 100 however is as much an opportunity to acknowledge the need to improve the lowest common denominator as it is about celebrating those at the top of their game. Tackling the problem of miscast CIOs may be less glamorous, but in many ways is at least as important as recognising our best technology leaders.