Nine Things CIOs Wished You Knew About Their Jobs

Nine Things CIOs Wished You Knew About Their Jobs

Think the CIO has it easy? Think again. It's all about politics, business needs, budgets and keeping things running while still trying to stay strategic

CIOs get bombarded with requests; everything from vendor cold calls to staff needing project approval to board members digging for cost-cutting ideas. And despite the deluge, IT execs must learn to keep their staff, executives and customers happy. Keeping smiles on all those groups requires that good CIOs know every role in the business, but how many people really know the role of the CIO?

So it's time for you to walk a mile in a CIO's shoes. Four IT leaders offered their time to discuss their jobs, why they do what they do, and to give a little insight into what goes on in their offices.

"Why do CIOs keep talking about the budget?"

It's a tough thing for the new CIO to learn, but Maria Pardee, CIO of BT Retail, stresses that CIOs have to begin by monetizing everything.

"Every single hour, every single day, every single project, it had better be monetized to some type of business prioritization and business value," says Pardee.

As a result, IT workers who want to get the green light for their project need to understand its financial side and find a way to make the cost-benefit equation appealing to the CIO and — by extension — the business. Finding either financial savings or a business need for a project can help ensure funding and keep interested parties inside the company from walking away and leaving the IT team holding a project that no one wants anymore.

That scenario can be a serious problem for any CIO, particularly since most IT departments are run as cost centres, and being a cost centre means constantly proving your worth, says Pardee. "The past few years have been really enlightening, because when you're a cost centre," she says, "it doesn't matter if you're on time, to spec and to budget — you're still costing money."

Dedra Cantrell, CIO for Emory Healthcare, sees the same issue in the healthcare industry, and the "ongoing pain of trying to get funding for IT infrastructure.

"While most business folks can understand the funding required for a specific project like implementing [electronic medical records]," Cantrell says, "they don't understand or maybe they don't want to understand the need for funding for refreshing network electronics or upgrading electricals or environmentals for the data centre."

"Why does the CIO always kill my creative ideas?"

Monetizing everything means there are going to be projects and ideas that cannot be done, no matter how cool or innovative. Sometimes for a CIO, it can be a lose-lose battle.

"We're the ones trying to keep the tight reins on standards and things that work together, and people hate us because we're stopping their creativity," says Stacey Morrison, deputy CIO for the NASA Johnson Space Centre.

Pardee insists, however, that it's not actually about saying no, it's about saying yes to the right projects. IT execs who do this correctly still find ways to work more creative projects into the budget. "Maybe at a 90/10 thing, where if you're really being successful, take 10 percent of your resources and put them towards innovative ideas, agile business processes, next-generation concepts," says Pardee.

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