Why the CIO Role is the Toughest Job in the C-Suite 

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: April 20, 2022

Digitalisation has certainly thrust the role of the CIO into the forefront of mainstream technology media and journalists of tech magazines. Everyone is suddenly an expert on the role of the CIO as if this magical being can ignore all the pitfalls that come with working in corporates and simply be innovative in the digital space. We do get that ICT is no longer simply a supporting service. CIOs can see big data, business intelligence, and digital as the technologies that will have the most significant impact on their businesses within the next two to three years. There is a groundswell of enthusiasm for the role but there are still internal organisational hurdles to contend with. 

Be innovative but watch spend

The pressure on CIOs to reduce capital spending is creating a catch-22 situation. To be innovative and competitive in the digital economy requires research and development funding that CFOs are reluctant to sign off on. Old school ROI calculations are difficult to apply to new methodologies and concepts like Lean Startup thinking. An article in the Harvard Business Review stated that when it comes to IT's ability to allocate investments in response to the new work environment, traditional governance processes prove grossly outdated. The article touches on traditional ROI-based business cases undermining IT's ability to invest in high-return-but-hard-measure areas like improving knowledge worker productivity. 

Unlimited funding is certainly not feasible nor expected. However, it is difficult to convince a Board and EXCO that the funding you require for exploring IoT will not return an investment initially as you literally don't know what you don't know. The other difficulty is getting the C-Suite and Board to understand digital concepts like IoT in the first place! So, how will they fund something they have not taken the time to learn? What do these people do when not in meetings? The role of the CIO is certainly not easy. 

Retaining talent with old-school HR policies 

The pace of change today is more than a constant, it can be seen as the new status quo. Millennials who only know relentless change as a way of life, are busy entering the workforce. Patrick Willer in his article states that HR should have a solid method or strategy for maximum agility when absorbing the impact of IoT. In other words, having the right workforce composition. Does anyone have any ideas on how to get HR on board in South Africa with our rigid HR policies and procedures?

As a CIO, I use to find that for candidates to get to see me they first have to jump through HR hoops. These energy and talent-draining hoops could make those candidates could be eliminated for not having the right qualifications. How do I factor in that attitude and passion sometimes count more than a qualification? It also doesn't help when there is a global shortage of digital skills. 

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Ignorance versus apathy

The attitude of far too many business executives is still “I don’t know and I don’t care." When it comes to all things Information Technology. These are the same individuals who invest millions on taste tests and focus groups to figure out how to improve the organisations' products, and even more to find out how their customers are responding to advertising campaigns, but want you, as the CIO, to figure out what information technology the company needs on your own. 

In principle, these executives do want to be involved but in practice, they can’t spare the time. They also can’t spare much staff time either but will talk at great lengths about teamwork at company retreats. 

For you as the CIO, there are still those investments that you need to make whose costs will be quite tangible, but whose benefits will be invisible … investments in the IT equivalent of preventive maintenance. Attempt to explain their importance and everyone’s eyes glaze over. Go ahead and do them anyway and you’re accused of buying technology for technology’s sake. Fail to make them and you suffer the usual litany of outages, slowdowns, and costly overdue upgrades. 

Is leading IT the toughest job in the world? Maybe, maybe not. 

It’s certainly tough enough. 

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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