Who says CIOs can’t change industry?

keyboard question markTake a look at any CIO, CTO, IT Director or Head of IT job advertisement and they’re all very likely to have one thing in common: candidates must have experience in the same or a very similar industry as the recruiting organisation. As someone who is currently looking for a new CIO role this is quite frustrating. And I’ve lost count of the number of recruiters that have told me their clients are being especially ‘conservative’ at the moment, not wanting to “take a risk” on someone from outside their industry in the current economic climate. As a result recruiters are reluctant to put forward someone without industry experience as this may reflect poorly on them in the eyes of their client.

Forbes.com published an article on this subject a few weeks ago called “When to Look Outside Your Industry for Your Next CIO.” The article described how organisations may start the recruitment process with the intention of making a real change by appointing someone with different skills and experience to their previous CIO. However, once the search process begins the C-suite makes significant industry experience a prerequisite. The result is they recruit someone with very a similar approach and ideas, as each industry tends to work in the same way, with the same suppliers and CIOs attending the same conferences, briefings, events, etc. As the Forbes piece states “rounding up the usual suspects will get the usual results.”

So is industry experience really necessary for a CIO to be successful? And is recruiting someone from outside your industry really a “risk” to the organisation? Or is this more a reflection of the rest of the C-suite and their understanding of the systems within their organisation/industry and of technology more generally? Does this lack of understanding or awareness lead to a fear of all things technical and the conclusion that as no one else in the C-suite understands technology then how could anyone who hasn’t spent 10 years+ in the industry possibly understand these things? Something has to explain why time and time again organisations continually pass up the opportunity to bring new thinking and fresh ideas into their CIO role.

That’s not to say that the rest of the C-suite could or should understand the organisation’s systems, infrastructure or architecture. But they probably do need a better understanding of the CIO’s role and the skills that any experienced CIO brings with them; the ability to understand technology, systems and processes, diving deep in to the detail where necessary. That’s what CIOs do and that’s why we are able to quickly get up to speed on the key aspects of an organisation’s IT, the key systems, risks and priorities.

Every organisation will have an existing IT department and/or established suppliers that keep things running on a day-to-day basis. So where is the risk in recruiting a CIO from outside your industry? A real CIO should not be involved in the day-to-day running of their organisation’s IT. They should be spending time with their C-suite colleagues, business units and customers, focusing on strategy, identifying where technology can add value to the organisation and, as a member of the C-suite, contributing to the wider organisation.

And so to the observation that clients are being even more conservative in the current economic climate. Surely in difficult times, new thinking and ways of doing things may actually be just what your organisation needs to survive and prosper? Isn’t that when the best decisions or inventions are made? When people are forced to think differently because of a crisis or threat to their survival? On a personal basis most of my experience as a CIO has come in organisations that operate on very low margins. That brings certain challenges and with it creative ways of achieving things, spreading investment, ensuring that every pound spent is justified and earns a return. What organisation wouldn’t want that from a CIO at any time, let alone when the economy is struggling?

Organisations that dare to be different (and who get it right) become market leaders. But this involves doing things differently. If technology can be a differentiator for your organisation then why not look outside your industry for your next CIO?


  1. […] a previous article called Who says CIOs can’t change industry? I challenged the perception that many organisations have about CIOs needing industry experience. […]

  2. […] a previous article called Who says CIOs can’t change industry? I challenged the perception that many organisations have about CIOs needing industry experience. […]


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