Bernard Golden, who is CEO of consulting firm HyperStratus, believes that CIOs don’t need to be business leaders. In a recent article published on a number of IT websites he argues in a rather simplistic way that if a CIO is a business leader then they can’t be a technology leader. There is so much wrong with this view and the flawed arguments used by Mr Golden to support his theory that it’s actually quite difficult to know where to start this post!
Firstly, let’s look at his main point: you can’t be both a business leader and a technology leader. Why not? The two are not mutually exclusive. CIOs are a talented bunch and are more than capable of understanding both. In fact, given the reach that technology has across the organisation there is probably no other role that understands both its own field and the broader business as the CIO role does. And Mr Golden’s suggestion that CIOs are not capable of mastering both without compromising their performance or contribution in one or other is quite frankly insulting to CIOs.
He supports this theory by stating that technical skills in IT management are becoming more important and that in the future “CIOs will need deep technical skills.” In fact, he argues, CEOs will expect their CIO to have deep technical knowledge and without it how can a CIO possibly manage the IT function, know what is right or where potential risks and weak points may be. Isn’t that what the rest of the IT department is for? The CIO builds a team of people and/or partners that have the detailed technical knowledge needed by the organisation. Yes, the CIO needs to have a good understanding of the technology and they need to be able to deep dive when necessary but they do not need a detailed understanding of how everything works.
It is old school thinking to believe that the CIO has to have all the answers; be able to spot the weakness in solutions that have been designed by technical specialists. This is why we have business analysts and architects, design processes with gateway reviews, test specialists, tools and processes, etc. The CIO has to make sure the proper skills, tools and processes are in place, not do the detailed reviews and testing themselves.
Mr Golden also states that “talking to the CEO in business language with which he or she is comfortable is a red herring.” If you re-read that sentence it just doesn’t make sense. Is he really advocating that CIOs do not use a language with which their CEO, or anyone else for that matter, is comfortable? So he wants CIOs to be deeply technical and for everyone else to have to learn how to communicate with the CIO? Yes, the CEO needs to understand technology given its importance, but it’s the CIO’s job to explain it in such a way that this understanding can be developed quickly when it is needed. And as with CIOs, CEOs need to be (and thankfully most are) capable of diving into the detail when necessary. But this doesn’t require deep technical knowledge.
If CIOs were to follow Mr Golden’s advice then they would soon find themselves pushed into the corporate backwater from where they have worked hard to emerge; being viewed purely as a technical specialist with little to contribute beyond their own discipline.
Thankfully the bad news for Mr Golden is that many CIOs are already business leaders and are playing a key role in the development and growth of their organisations by providing leadership beyond technology. Just take a look at the CIO100, compiled by CIO Magazine. The index is judged principally on transformation skills and achievement. The top 100 CIOs are not helping to transform their organisations by honing their detailed technical skills and ignoring the wider business. Leading business transformation requires a broad set of skills that goes beyond the technical. The top CIOs know this, have developed their wider business skills and have already made the transition from technology leaders to business and technology leaders.
And a final point: in the notes to the article it states that Wired.com recently named Mr Golden one of the Top 10 Cloud Influencers and Thought Leaders. My advice to him is to keep his head in the cloud.