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CIOs: Are you your CEO's business partner or their gimp?

A Machiavellian guide for the modern CIO

The essential guide to IT transformation

Secret CIO The title CIO is often suggested, mostly as satire, to stand for Career Is Over, usually by bitter people who applied for the job but didn’t get it.

The joke isn't true but nor is it totally without foundation, because the days of the career CIO seem to be coming to an end.

These days CIO is often a position taken by someone on an upward trajectory who knows it will be a stint in purgatory while they learn about the components that make modern businesses tick. These folks expect it won't be their last career stop.

They also know being a CIO exposes them to nasty traps.

To understand how, CIOs' reporting lines give away quite a bit of the story. Companies in the business of IT have the CIO function (often switched to CTO to give it more propeller-hat cred) reporting directly to the CEO.

Outside of the IT business this is a much rarer situation. Fortune 500 CIOs more often than not report to the CFO, who generally greets each new CIO with a T-shirt reading “I promise not to drop any cost bombs”. The new CIO then discovers the team they have inherited are the equivalent of B52 pilots hellbent on carpet-bombing missions (I am going to indulge in brutal generalisation throughout this piece for either narrative or comedy reasons – both are equally important).

This will of course create tension between the CIO and CFO.

The bad news is the new CIO can also expect tension with all other C-level executives.

Chief Marketing Officer: 'I want all the toys'

Marketing organisations use terms like “Living the space”, “Connected with the consumer”, and “Exploring new consumer mediums” as excuses to get access to the latest and greatest toys. The CIO is forced into either incorporating this technology (and the cost of connecting it) into their strategy or turning a blind eye to the rampant consumerisation of client equipment (while also bearing the cost of connecting and unofficially supporting it).

This wouldn’t be so bad on its own, because CIOs secretly like the way consumerisation is heading.

But CMOs' next issue isn’t so easily covered up.

That issue is their conviction that you have the security, cost and performance of their web assets as your number one priority despite the fact that they will fight you to the death for any semblance of control over the security, cost or performance of their web assets.

Every website is built on the drunken whim of a marketing guy who has spent the day at the pub with very clever agency people whose sole purpose it is to ply the marketing community with alcohol until websites fall out. These agency wolves have learned that a drunken marketeer is the equivalent of a blind and lame springbok dropping out of the herd. The flashing of claws and gnashing of teeth that follows a good long lunch sees websites sprayed around in a blast radius from the mangled corpse of this analogy.

Marketing agencies have also learned to make the implementation of sites cheap. Implementation costs are usually quite heavily scrutinised and subject to competitive tendering.

Ongoing costs, on the other hand, are the subject of hushed conversation in the hallways and boardrooms of every full service marketing agency in the world. "They never want to turn it off!" they giggle to each other.

I have a mental picture of a cabal of hooded, candle-toting ad agency CEOs standing around a pentagram containing the flayed corpse of an agency rep who let slip that a dedicated physical server for your website (for the majority of sites) is not particularly necessary or good value for money.

It is also a known fact that the security of a website can be directly correlated to the number of tattoos on the recently graduated designer who got the job of throwing the site together for go-live the next day (which also explains why a website's colour palette gets two weeks of workshops but the actual site-build happens the day before it goes live).

Despite all of these factors, it somehow ends up being IT's job (usually three minutes after the first time the site gets hacked) to keep web content under control, and solving this problem in a collaborative way gets you a seat at the table rather than a gimp suit and a locked box in the corner.

The best advice I can give you for this relationship is to wait until your CMO cruises past on his Segway, then jam a steel rod into the wheels. Once he has flown over the handlebars and is laying dazed on the ground, jump on him, pin him to the ground and insist that you will not stop giving him wet willies until he concedes that websites, content management, coding standards and hosting architecture are a shared responsibility between IT and marketing and that you need to be given appropriate governance over these things prior to taking any responsibility for it going wrong.

With those ground rules established, you'll get on famously.

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