CIOs must transcend expectations

Bosses are pleased with CIOs, but they just don't expect a whole lot from IT

A recent survey conducted by Forrester Research found that CEOs are generally satisfied with the role IT plays in the organization. But the study also showed that while they would like IT leadership to drive business innovation or lead process improvement, less than one-third of CEOs really expect IT leadership to be proactive in either area. And more than half of the CEO respondents said they were unimpressed with IT's ability to track and report on people and equipment assets.

The limited expectations CEOs have of IT leadership threaten to stunt IT's contributions, resulting in an IT organization that may be averse to taking risks or even rising to the level of visibility. Certainly, some of the burden of guilt lies with CEOs, who must educate themselves about technology and the prospective value IT can deliver to the business. They must demand that CIOs take more of a leadership role in the organization, give the CIO more of a voice on the executive team and in the organization as a whole, and transform themselves into tech-smart executives who can look beyond IT fads to see the real-world technology that underpins the success of firms they admire.

If you are a passive IT executive -- one whose CEO is happy but doesn't think that IT offers leadership in areas of business innovation, process improvement or asset management -- you must boost your aspirations for IT's contribution. A positive initiative from you will drive an increase in your CEO's expectations of IT.

One thing you can do is strengthen your relationship with other business leaders in the organization. Here are three steps CIOs can take to do that:

- If you're resting on the laurels of the CEO's low expectations, stand up. If the gap between high satisfaction and low expectations characterizes your company, shake off the lethargy and brainstorm with your staff about what can and should be done differently. Move IT practices and processes to a higher level of maturity and stability, making sure that IT is well connected to business strategy and that business stakeholder relationships are well managed.

- If you're doing more than the CEO can see, market it. If part of the gap in the perception of IT leadership is simply ignorance of the impact that IT is having on the business, your first task is to improve communication. Help the CEO understand IT in business terms, mapping recent business improvements to their underlying IT enablers. For example, if an IT project accelerated the speed of servicing a customer, make sure that the boss knows and can speak knowledgeably about it.

- If the CEO and top executives don't understand IT, educate them. Get on the agenda of an executive off-site gathering so you can provide an overview of IT's basic vocabulary and current capabilities -- answering any and all questions and brainstorming about future possibilities. If you don't take on the task of educating the CEO and other executives about the business impact of technology, no one else is likely to pick up the slack.

It is clear that IT and business initiatives and strategies will increasingly have to intertwine and overlap -- forging a new business/technology organization and making the boundaries between business and IT more permeable. But to get there, CIOs will have to shatter stigmas associated with IT and forge stronger relationships with the top decision-makers in their organizations.

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