10 signs that you aren't cut out to be a CIO

You've spent many years as an IT professional. You've written good program code; taken on complex projects — and succeeded; managed technical IT professionals; and studied the ins-and-outs of how the Web works. All of these things have helped you advance in your career. So now you're ready to be a CIO, right?

I had the opportunity to talk with a large number of incumbent CIOs when doing research for my book Unwrapping the CIO: Demystifying the Chief Information Officer Position. It was extremely interesting hearing about the things that surprised them when they first assumed their new CIO position. I also talked with CEOs about what they look for when hiring a CIO. As a result of these conversations, I have been able to compile some of the more salient traits necessary to be successful in that job.

Let's see if you are ready to be a CIO. If any of the following items make you feel like you are looking in a mirror, you may want to reconsider whether you're really prepared to be a CIO.

This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: You are uncomfortable working with senior management

It would be a real problem if you aren't comfortable working with senior management since, as CIO, you are senior management. The CEOs I talked with were adamant about the CIO functioning well as a member of the senior management team. This means that the heads of the business units, such as finance, marketing, and sales, are now your peers. These are individuals who will interact with you on a daily basis. You will need to build strong relationships with the members of the senior management team to be successful in your job.

#2: The concepts of financial management totally elude you

It's common for the IT budget to represent anywhere from 3% to 5% of the total expenses in a company. That can be a huge number in a multibillion dollar corporation. You must also understand that the components of the IT budget are some of the most complex in the business. Many departments need to think only about people costs.

But as CIO, you must also be concerned with hardware costs, which include mainframes, desktops, servers, and all of the associated peripherals; the cost of the software that will run on those devices; the maintenance costs for both the hardware and software; the cost of providing an effective network, both voice and data; and the costs associated with acquiring and maintaining outside consultants on your team. You will also need to be concerned with the timing of purchases to ensure that maximum value is realized from these investments. Financial management is a major part of the CIO's job.

#3: You have no desire to participate in business strategic planning

Close to 80% of the CIOs I surveyed, indicated that strategic planning was the most significant aspect of their job. The business world today is extremely complex. Increased globalization; heightened merger activity; competition from nontraditional sources; shortened product life cycles; and a tightened regulatory environment are just a few of the items affecting a company's strategic plan. Information technology can affect all of these things... and more.

In addition, many companies use IT as the strategic weapon necessary to survive in the fierce competitive environment. It is the job of the CIO to understand all of the aspects of the marketplace in which the company participates to help it effectively use information technology to address these challenges.

#4: Any kind of change drives you crazy

As the CIO, you are the company's primary change agent. The CEO will look to you to drive a lot of the change in the company. Some of the changes will be related to technology, some will not. The CEO may make you responsible for improving the workflow of a key business process. This is in addition to the rapid changes in all aspects of technology that you are going to be required to manage. For example, the convergence of voice and data technologies could mean you will need to change the telephones that are on everyone's desk.

#5: You think SOX is a garment

The Sarbenes-Oxley Act (SOX) is just one of the many regulatory changes that are having a significant impact on companies today. It affects things such as financial reporting, corporate governance, and recordkeeping. In addition, if you are in a service organization, you must contend with auditing standards, such as SAS-70 (i.e. Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 70), which increases the requirements to disclose your controls and processes to your customers.

Today, much of the regulatory compliance requirements are performed electronically. Therefore, the CIO must understand all aspects of compliance requirements and issues. As CIO, you will be required to assist the company in avoiding the liabilities associated with noncompliance with these regulations.

#6: To you, asset management and building management are the same things

Information technology represents a major investment of the corporation. A large amount of the corporate assets are in the hardware, software, networks, and data center facilities in IT. Therefore, asset management plays an important role in the job of a CIO. The CIO must understand asset life cycles and the techniques for managing assets through their life cycle. The CIO also needs to know the value of those assets and must be able to manage them efficiently. In the case of the data centers, asset management and building management may be the same thing. However, that is not true for the rest of the IT assets.

#7: The idea of selling anything scares you to death

A considerable part of the CIO job is selling. CIOs must sell the need for the new server technology when the company already has more than a thousand servers; sell the need to keep processing in-house and not outsource to an offshore company; sell the change in processes that will affect multiple business units; sell the refresh strategy for the desktop technology; and so on.

It would require a lot more space than we have here to list all of the ideas, techniques, methods, and technology that a CIO must sell. At times, that sale will be made to your peers who are the heads of the other business units; other times, to the CEO or the board of directors. A CIO should not be frightened of selling or the sales process; it's a large part of the job.

#8: Indecision is one of your strong points

It always amazes me the number of managers who are comfortable pushing decisions up the management chain. If you are the CIO, guess where the buck stops? That's right... you're it. A CIO is required to make hundreds of decisions a day. Some are popular; some are not so popular. There are technology decisions; process decisions; and people decisions. There are decisions on how much or whether to challenge your business peer who is planning to pursue technology that is inconsistent with your direction. There are the decisions about how to inform the CEO of the failure of a key corporate strategic project. And of course, there is always the decision as to whether taking on the CIO assignment was a good one in the first place.

#9: You're really skilled in one key area of information technology

I have met IT professionals who believe that being highly skilled in Web technology is the key to being a good CIO. Of course, I have also met people who have said the same about data management, networking, storage, and security technologies. So then the question becomes, "In which technology should you specialize?" The answer is all of them.

The CEO and the rest of the senior management team are going to expect you to be the senior information technology person. Therefore, they will just assume that you are knowledgeable in all areas of IT. You and I both know that's impossible. The key is to develop an understanding of the different technologies and surround yourself with experts in each.

#10: You believe that CIO stands for "career is over"

CIOs must have many personalities to perform their job on a daily basis. They must be a financial manager one minute and a technology chief the next. They may spend their morning discussing competitive strategies with the board of directors. Their afternoon could consist of discussing bandwidth requirements with the networking professionals or negotiating an IT contract with a vendor. As a result of this wide range of skills, many CIOs are progressing to the CEO position within their company. So if you think that becoming a CIO is the end of your career, you may want to rethink whether you have what it takes to be a CIO.


The job of CIO is complex on a good day. Only one in a million IT professionals can do the CIO job... and do it well. It is a job that requires a unique set of business skills as well as a strong understanding of IT technologies. However, the CIO is also in an exceptional position to have a major impact on the success of the company. So if you still think you want to become a CIO, you should be aware that you will gain membership to one of the most elite group of professionals on the planet.

Wayne L. Anderson is president and chief IT strategist at Anderson Professional Systems Group, LLC. He trains and coaches CIOs at Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of Unwrapping the CIO: Demystifying the Chief Information Officer Position and Powerful People are Powerful IT Professionals: A Daily Guide to Becoming a Powerful Systems Person. In addition, he has written numerous articles on successful IT management. Wayne currently writes a weekly blog on IT Leadership for TechRepublic. For more information about Wayne's books and services, visit his Web site or e-mail him.

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