CIOs Need To Understand CEOs to Succeed

Sure you can manage the data and the people driving the technology at your corporation. But can you manage an ongoing strong relationship with the man or woman at the top?

As a recent expert advice article at points out, successful CIOs need to know the differences between them and their CEOs. It could mean the difference between corporate success and unemployment or, just as bad, underemployment when you are no longer considered worth of a C-level position.

Frank Petersmark, a CIO advocate at X by 2, a technology consulting firm in Farmington Hills, Mich., that specializes in IT transformation projects for the insurance and healthcare industries, wrote, “First, it helps if both the CEO and CIO take the time to develop an appreciation of what each other does, and how that continually informs and shapes how they view their respective worlds. This sounds easy but, in reality, it is anything but easy.

“The reason it is difficult is because there is only one way to accomplish it—and that is by spending time with each other. And by spending time, I mean more than a weekly or monthly status meeting or a place on the biweekly executive staff meeting agenda. Rather, it means each individual committing and investing the time to describe and explain what they do, why they do it, and what that will likely mean to each other going forward,” he said.

Petersmark said this relationship shouldn’t be difficult. “In the abstract it would seem that CEOs and CIOs have many things in common—and they do in a lot of organizations. However, they also have some differences, and it’s in these differences that the trouble often begins,” he wrote.

As proof, he cites a survey that asked CIOs what they thought CEOs expected from them. The top 5 answers were:

  1. Help the company reach a specific revenue goal
  2. Complete a major enterprise project
  3. Support customer acquisition and retention
  4. Simplify IT
  5. Lead a product innovation effort

Petersmark then found research that showed what CEOs expected from CIOs. As you can probably guess, there wasn’t harmony in the answers. The top five responses were:

  1. Data management and business analytics
  2. Mobile, including management, security, tablets and app stores
  3. Application development, including ERP and CRM
  4. Cloud computing, including public, private and hybrid clouds
  5. Security, including virus protection, single sign-on, firewalls and VPNs

Writing at, Gary Davenport, president of the CIO Association of Canada, says, “In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, CEOs need their CIOs to be successful for the benefit of their organizations. Of course, the underpinning of any great relationship is usually based on mutual trust and respect. This includes CEOs giving their CIOs the freedom to act and at the same time holding them accountable for delivering the expected results.

“The bottom-line for any CIO is not what was done for the CEO and the organization yesterday, but more importantly what the CIO is doing for the CEO and the organization both for today and for tomorrow, with constant focus on making things better through business change and innovation using the power of digital technologies.”

Davenport addresses the dynamics of the relationship between the CEO and CIO. “The relationship dynamics can be driven by a number of factors, including: the focus of the CEO and the company’s reliance on information technology; the business strategy and financial performance of the company; the size and structure of the overall organization; the organizational culture and the inherent political environment; and the status of the productive use of information technology within the company. All of these factors can contribute to the credibility of the CIO with their CEO, or the lack thereof,” he says.

It’s a tricky path but focusing on strengthening your relationship with your CEO is only going to advance or, at the very least, sustain your career. After all, is there really any job security as CIO?


Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping,, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.