When Your CEO Is Your CIO

Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data | 10/27/2011 | 14 comments

Mary E. Shacklett
Especially in a small business, some IT managers encounter business bosses who feel they know enough about IT from home computing or a vendor seminar that they can make the calls on what to purchase and implement. How do you deal with a "micro manager" boss, especially when you have to tell him that he's wrong?

  1. Don’t tell him that he’s wrong. Instead, consider his idea, and see how you can work it into your overall application or plan. Chances are that there is a way the technology can make good sense for the company. Mobile communications is a prime example. Executives frequently stop by the nearest computer store and pick up a favorite mobile gadget that they also want to use at work. When they bring in this technology, it could be an opportunity for you to expand the kinds of mobile devices you support (giving you more flexibility), or even to sit down with executives to help organize a purchasing policy on a select group of devices or technologies that you’re going to support. The key here is that the CEO is involved. This gives you the potential for strong CEO backing for this and other technology initiatives you plan to promote.

  2. If you know he’s wrong, but he’s open to other ideas, take advantage of the opportunity for dialogue. Direct CEO engagement in technology discussions is a great opportunity, even if the two of you begin by disagreeing. Regardless of how the dialogue turns out, the CEO is engaged in the process. If the ultimate decision on technology purchases and deployment is a compromise between the CEO’s original idea and an alternate approach you are advocating, the CEO’s direct involvement is likely to bring his support for the final decision. He knows in the end that he is the CEO -- the end person responsible for the success of the business. For this reason, a good CEO will ensure the health of that business and is not going to let personal technology preferences get in the way if he can see the business rationale for pursuing another strategy.

  3. If the CEO is clearly wrong and won’t budge, have the courage to tell him why the approach is flawed. Be very thorough and specific in your explanation, and be sure that you’re right! More than once, I have spoken to IT professionals who said they took a stand, only to find out that they had overlooked something, and that the end business user (who can be the CEO) was right. Always do your due diligence first, and make sure you have an open mind.

The good news is that most CEOs will listen to their CIOs once they are exposed to the limitations of a technology they are advocating. They respect the CIO’s role and trust this person to make the best technology decisions for the business. Of course, there will still be CEOs who get exposed to a new technology and immediately see it as a total IT strategy. Vendors understand this, too, and will frequently try to sell the CEO on what turns out to be an unworkable solution from a technology standpoint by circumventing IT.

If you are in this situation, and you are IT, your job is still making the right IT decisions for the business. Give the CEO your assessment. If he chooses to go ahead anyway, you might feel that you have put your career with the company on the line -- but you’re usually going to find a boss who appreciates the candor and the hard work of his CIO.

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DBK   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/31/2011 7:55:28 PM
Re: Open minded CIO
In some ways having the CIO be the CEO could help to prioritize funding for technology.  But there are so many other big pictures objectives that can get missed.  Both of those possitions are critical to the success of almost all companies today, small, medium or large.  Hard to think that the CEO would be deletued with CIO related issues.  Could stumble and fall the sort of putting all your eggs in one basket theory.
Mary E. Shacklett   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/31/2011 9:19:03 AM
Re: Dealing with the CEO ? Be Prudent.
The end issue is delivering the best IT that you can. When you have  a CEO who does not make positive  contributions, this makes the  task more difficult but not insurmountable.

I do want to say, though, that although the situation needs to be approached carefully and diplomatically, there are  instances when you have to take a stand when it comes down to unsupportable or unethical IT practices. I have  occasionally seen this (fortunately, not too often). 

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Technocrat   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 4:13:45 PM
Dealing with the CEO ? Be Prudent.
Mary,  Some great advice on how to deal with a CEO who thinks for better or worse that he or she is a techie.  I agree you must handle this with kid gloves, the best way to approach this, in my opinion is to try to incorporate the CEO suggestions into the environment.  

You explain the factors of using whatever they propose, but in the end you should not fight the power too much.
Hospice_Houngbo   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 3:05:11 PM
Re: SMBs

It is not for the CEO to take over the CIO resposibilities, especially in big companies. The idea behind the blog is that the CIO should not be full of himself/herself and think that he/she knows every thing and has nothing to learn from the CEO. I think that makes sense.
Hospice_Houngbo   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 2:59:33 PM
Re: Open minded CIO

"This is why I feel that IT professionals need to listen to suggestions from other folks with an open mind."

I agree. For instance IT professionals dealing with Business Intelligence and Analytics in the company will necessary need ideas from the business people in the company to succeed in their tasks.

Hospice_Houngbo   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 2:47:22 PM
Re: SMBs

"What brings in the money. Anything that gets in the way of that -- including his own ill-advised involvement in IT -- would be seen for what it is and stopped."

It is not really a good idea to shun your CEO from the company's IT decision making process even if she/he is wrong. The best way would be (as said in the blog) to use persuasion to convince him/her that you have a better solution.

Broadway   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 2:34:48 PM
Re: SMBs
I can't see such an arrangement lasting all too long. You would think even the most hard-headed CEO/company owner would see the light once his small business' network gets infested with a nasty virus or some other major IT problem shuts down office operations for a length of time. Particularly in small businesses, the boss' preoccupation is with the core of his business. What brings in the money. Anything that gets in the way of that -- including his own ill-advised involvement in IT -- would be seen for what it is and stopped.
Broadway   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 2:34:43 PM
Re: SMBs
I can't see such an arrangement lasting all too long. You would think even the most hard-headed CEO/company owner would see the light once his small business' network gets infested with a nasty virus or some other major IT problem shuts down office operations for a length of time. Particularly in small businesses, the boss' preoccupation is with the core of his business. What brings in the money. Anything that gets in the way of that -- including his own ill-advised involvement in IT -- would be seen for what it is and stopped.
Taimoor Zubair   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 1:31:00 PM
Re: Open minded CIO
From my experience, I have observed that non-technical people, regardless of them being in lower staff or senior management, can come up with very creative solutions at times. When you spend considerable time in an IT role, your direction of thought becomes pretty narrow and out-of-the-box ideas become hard to come by. This is why I feel that IT professionals need to listen to suggestions from other folks with an open mind. Of course the solutions that non-technical people give may not be completely applicable, but in many cases they can be fine-tuned and used.
nimanthad   When Your CEO Is Your CIO   10/30/2011 5:41:26 AM
Re: SMBs
Well one thing is clear that no one can play a dual role regardless what your position is. Separate designations do carry separate key roles which should be played in different formats. So a CEO try to being a CIO or vice versa will not work out well for the company. It might work out well for a short time for the company's budget but only for a very short period of time.
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