CXO

Are CIOs' ambitions being crushed by 'digitally illiterate' boards?

Steve Ranger's Notebook: But if you can't join 'em, beat 'em...

CIOs aren't being appreciated by their fuddy-duddy boards: that means smart CIOs have two main options, says silicon.com editor Steve Ranger...

Some grim reading for ambitious CIOs: while you might be ready to make the leap to CEO, your technophobic board is unlikely to give you the chance.

According to a survey published this month, just under half of CIOs feel they have the necessary skills to do the CEO's job.

However, for the vast majority this is a pipe dream as boards remain reluctant to promote the IT guy. Nearly one in three CEOs have risen from the position of CFO, and a quarter were previously COOs, while a mere four per cent of current CEOs were heads of IT before taking the top job.

Boardroom

Technophobia? One in four of the CIOs surveyed accused the board of being digitally illiteratePhoto: Shutterstock

So what's stopping these well qualified CIOs from taking the hot seat? Over half of IT chiefs blamed the perception that their role is purely technical, and that they are seen as running a business support function rather than a core part of the business. A further one in six CIOs said there is "prejudice" within their organisation against promoting the CIO.

One in four CIOs accused the board of being 'digitally illiterate' and not understanding the impact of new and emerging technologies, and two out of five CIOs said the board doesn't understand the value IT brings to the business, making it slow to respond, according to the CA Technologies-sponsored report.

I thought the days of the CEO who got his PA to print out his emails were long gone, but it looks like there are still plenty of dinosaurs running businesses in between trips to the golf course.

Of course, financial discipline is vital in every business - which is why the CFO often gets the promotion - but obsessing over the numbers is also an excellent way to destroy innovation. How many organisations do you know that would rather save £10,000 than risk that £10,000 to make £1m? How much innovation are we missing out on by putting the wrong executives at the top of businesses?

Top CIOs should have that overarching view of the organisation and their industry, which means they can see the opportunities and the threats - and these are good people to have setting your corporate strategy in a world where digital innovation is so often key.

The report quotes a CIO recruitment specialist who argues the way that companies have groomed C-level executives is overdue for a refresh, pointing out that modern CIOs are serious candidates with unique advantages. I'm inclined to agree.

And it's also worth pointing out that while smart use of technology has resulted in enormous wealth creation in the last decade, it's often been at the cost of enormous wealth destruction. Innovation has exposed the weakness in old business models and brought some of the most venerable businesses around tumbling down, their place in the world taken by companies with strange names in lower case.

I can't think of another exec that embodies all that potential wealth creation and destruction as the CIO. So perhaps for the smart CIO I reckon there are two good options: either re-educate the board as to the worth of IT, or take the innovations they are ignoring and build a better, more exciting business elsewhere.

After all, if you can't join 'em, beat 'em.

Steve Ranger is the editor of silicon.com and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, culture and business for over a decade. You can find him tweeting @steveranger.

About Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

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