Former CIO Suggests Firing CIOs To Benefit Others

Shakespeare penned the line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” in his play Henry VI. A former CIO of United Airlines isn’t proposing mass execution but he does put forth this radical concept: fire your CIO.

Writing at VentureBeat.com, Eric Dean, corporate vice president of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and former CIO to a number of organizations including United Airlines, says CIOs may be holding some organizations back. He co-wrote the piece with Dean Fischer, CEO and co-founder of management and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners.

The pair say, “In a troubling number of organizations, the CIO is left to oversee the majority of decisions pertaining to IT, while the rest of the executive team gets a free pass on their technological incompetence. As technology becomes the epicenter of almost all business functions, technophobic C-suites are stifling their companies’ potential.”

Ah, so it appears the problem isn’t what CIOs do. It’s just that their presence impedes executive development. “CIOs still hold a valuable spot in most organizations, but businesses would be wise to start planning their approach toward building an IT-capable executive team. This should include a refreshed HR mindset, one that prioritizes technological literacy during executive recruitment, and a culture that discourages overreliance on the CIO,” they write.

Do they raise a valid point? Should CIOs be phased out because of too much dependence on their specialty? Or, should smart CIOs be prepping their current C-level partners to better understand their roles?

Ben Rooney, writing in the Tech Europe column for the Wall Street Journal, says smart executives need to become more technologically savvy or face becoming dinosaurs. He asks, “What kind of person should be a CEO? Put simply: Luddites need not apply.”

Rooney interviewed George Colony, chief executive officer of technology analysts Forrester Research, Inc. Colony told him, “Up to now it has been impossible to be a CEO unless you understood finance and marketing. But it has been possible to be a CEO if you didn’t understand technology. That will simply not be true in the future.”

Technology understanding becomes even more important as big data uncovers more and more information. As Rooney observes, “Never before have enterprises known so much about the people who buy their products. Never before have customers, especially the next generation, been so able, and so willing, to share their views—however unflattering they may be. It is this shift that is changing business computing, and bringing it out of the IT department and onto the CEO’s desk.”

Which brings us back to the question: do we still need CIOs? Maybe not, but you can make other execs want CIOs. Mary Shacklett, in a TechRepublic.com article, points one way that can be achieved. She says, “IT-ers by nature are control-oriented. If you are to develop managers who can capably drive their projects to success, or foster trust-inspired relationships with end users and their managers, you might find that you have to ‘let go.’ Many CIOs want to seize control in technology projects. The better path is to demonstrate a little patience and forbearance. Allow others to participate and to contribute their ideas.”

What’s the best way for CIOs to stay relevant to their organizations and not get fired? Cindy Waxer, in an article at InformationWeek.com, says, “Strong project management skills are critical to running a successful IT shop. But if you’re hoping to climb that corporate ladder, it’s important to know how to build relationships up, down, and sideways. In fact, according to a recent poll from SearchCIO, conducted of 875 senior and mid-level IT executives, CIOs who earn the highest salaries make building relationships with top executives more of a priority than managing IT projects.”

There’s hope yet that CIOs won’t go the way of the dinosaurs but it’s going to take some old-fashion skills to protect your job.

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, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.