The CEO/CIO relationship

What do CEOs want most from their CIOs? We asked a diverse group of five CEOs that question, then asked their CIOs what they need most from their chief executives.

Despite the diversity of their organizations, which ranged from a giant utility firm to a small private company, the CEOs generally agreed about what was most important: They want their CIOs to understand their businesses, their long-term directions and their current needs and resources, and they want them to deliver against those needs and resources.

The CIOs also tended to agree with one another. They want their CEOs to understand and respect IT, share their strategies with them and support them. Here's what the CEOs had to say. On Feb. 15, we'll let the CIOs have their turn.

1. The business view

CEOs value a business perspective most of all, based on the frequency with which it was mentioned and the priority it was given. "The CIO needs to be the bridge from information technology to the rest of the company. He needs to look ahead and align technical benefits with company needs," says Gordon Smith, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) in San Francisco. Some CEOs particularly value CIOs with operations experience and knowledge of their industry gained in positions outside IT.

A business perspective also means tailoring systems to user needs rather than vice versa. The CIO has to "make sure that what the user gets is what they want, not what the CIO thinks they want," says Herb Foster, CEO at CivicBank of Commerce in Oakland, Calif.

What CEOs want most from CIOs:
1. Business perspective
2. Vision
3. Innovation
4. Leadership
5. ROI
6. Communication
7. Alignment with business goals
8. Business relationships
9. Team play

2. Vision
The second thing CEOs want is vision. "I need my CIO to be a visionary, seeing and preparing for the future," says Dan Mohorc, CEO at Galactic Ltd., a small, private company in Arlington, Texas, that provides noncash employee incentives such as trips to reward successful sales teams. That includes understanding the company's strategy and having the creativity to use technology to further that strategy, says Shirley DeLibero, CEO at Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, the Houston-area mass transit system. "I value a CIO who sees the big picture and can help me turn the vision into a reality through technology," she says.

3. Innovation
Turning vision into reality requires innovation, the CEOs' third priority for CIOs. Tracy Mullin, CEO of the National Retail Federation in Washington, values knowledge about emerging technologies that have applications for retailing. She gets that from her CIO, Don Gilbert, whom she jokingly refers to as "our technoweenie."
Foster wants his CIO to help CivicBank be "as cutting-edge as the organization can afford." But he makes it clear that he equally values judgment about costs and benefits. Foster says he wants his CIO to "make sure the CEO and management team understand the cost trade-offs with each step forward."
That concept of balancing innovation and risk is also on Smith's mind. "We're always looking for new and better ways to operate, and innovation through technology has helped get us in the forefront and keep us there," he says. But "change involves a degree of risk," says Smith. "The CIO has to maintain a balance between budgets and new technology, as well as between reliability and high technology."

4. Leadership
CEOs want their CIOs to take charge. "I need a self-starter with a lot of self-confidence who can look at the needs of the organization and run without my supervision," says DeLibero. "I need someone who can motivate the troops, talk about her vision and get buy-in."
At PG&E, which dealt with a major California energy crisis while filing for bankruptcy protection, Smith values the leadership his CIO, Roger Gray, has shown in juggling huge problems while maintaining the systems that provide for day-to-day business necessities. Gray recently kept his people focused on a number of major projects, including the revamping of a large enterprise resource planning system. "He's got to deal with the challenges that we have been facing and keep the lights on and the gas flowing," Smith says.

5. ROI
CEOs value results. "My CIO must always be looking for ways to enhance Galactic's margins and profits through technology," says Mohorc.
That requires the ability to prioritize efforts to get the most bang per buck. "Seldom does a CIO have a blank check on projects," Smith says. "He has to do his best with available resources and recognize where efforts are best applied."

6. Communications
"The most important thing I need from my CIO is open communications," says Mohorc. "Everything hinges on that."
"It's critical that we maintain clear lines of communication," Smith agrees.
Mullin emphasizes the need for her CIO to speak the language of business, not technology, and she values his ability to communicate effectively not only with her but also with nontechnical staffers and National Retail Federation members.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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