Balancing Acts and the CIO – the Blondini of the Organisation?

150 years ago the Great Blondini, the world-famous tightrope walker, performed incredible feats of balance and daring in his aerial ambulation above Niagara Falls. While today’s Chief Information Office doesn’t always hold crowds breathless with excitement in quite the same way, he or she has a balancing act to get right too. How much detail should CIOs know about the technology the company is using? How much should they get involved in managing IT projects and how much should they concentrate (instead) strengthening relationships with fellow directors? The way CIOs handle these questions can affect both the business continuity and the disaster recovery capabilities of an organisation.

For some parts of a CIO’s job, it’s a matter of positioning a sliding cursor. CIOs need to know enough about technology to understand its true business benefit and how that benefit can be realised. Likewise, they need to be involved enough with projects to impress the business objectives on them and ensure that the projects reflect the strategic goals of an organisation, rather than being brilliant but futile exercises in technical excellence. At the same time however they need to ensure strong presence at board level and be able to navigate the political waters – not just for their own careers, but also for the success of IT activities important to the enterprise.

With these varying goals in mind, a number of CIOs have opted for appointing a technically astute assistant CIO, carving up management, technical and political activities between the two of them as appropriate. Some duties however remain clearly part of the CIO’s remit. They include showing clear support for end-user requirements, setting the example for insisting on adequate quality assurance, leadership in resolving situations of conflict and ensuring that IT staff are rewarded according to the business value they contribute. These aspects are not balancing acts – they are mandatory, upon pain of project failure or staff disenchantment if the CIO does not fulfil them.