10 Scary Truths About Being A CIO

Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown

Being a CIO is a rewarding, yet challenging role. CIOs are on the brink of technological innovation and business growth and in many ways hold the future of their organization in the palm of their hands.

In the spirit of Halloween, here are 10 scary truths about being a CIO, with insight from IT executives and industry experts gathered from previous interviews and contributing blogs. Warning: If you are currently aspiring to be a CIO, you better grab the trick-or-treat bowl for some comfort candy.

No. 10: A CIO Must Be The King Of All Apps

There's an app for almost everything today and, as IT and technology leaders of their organization, CIOs know how to use them all. Just like with BYOD, millennials are going to nix traditional programs or software and go for tablets, laptops and hybrid PCs that house easy-to-use applications. If you don't know how to use it, how can you successfully secure it? Or better yet, how can you, as the CIO, expect others to understand if you cannot understand it yourself?

No. 9: CIOs Must Get Social, So Go Party Online

CIOs must embrace social media as part of their IT strategy—employees are going to use it whether or not they are allowed to. Social media is a great opportunity for CIOs to engage with users and show their "human" side and talk to people in the non-"geek speak" that they understand.

"I think IT, in particular, should be active on social media sites because it is a technology initiative. The digital world is all about technology and by not being there, it sends a very inconsistent message," said Carol McManus, owner of America's LinkedIn Lady, founder and CEO of Ywait4success. "CIOs have to be present and active. Social networking online is no different than social networking in the real world, so you have to use conversation to get people to know, like and trust you because that's what leads to good business," she said.

No. 8: CIOs Spend Most Of Their Time Simply Maintaining IT, Boo! Wake Up!

Feedback from Gartner's discussions with midmarket IT executives shows a consensus that 70 percent of the midsize IT shop is devoted in both dollars and time to simply maintaining the environment they have today, leaving only about 30 percent of resources to be devoted to innovative things such as mobility, cloud and big data. This lands on IT vendors to find a way to enable IT organizations, especially those with limited budgets and staff, to move beyond that 30 percent for innovation.

"Standardize wherever possible," said Browning. "Create simpler IT environments that are easier and less expensive. Standardization leads to lower total cost of ownership, improved manageability and reduced daily maintenance."

No. 7: CIOs Have To Earn Trust, So Pick Your Poison

As users want more and more functionality, mobility and innovation, CIOs are looked to as the source of all the answers. People want to know that if their connection is lost, device was stolen or account was hacked, the CIO will be ready and able to take swift and secure action. "Trust is the single, most important connection between you and the people in the organization you support. It takes time to gain it and a moment to lose it. When you are new in an organization, you are on ’borrowed trust.' People give you the benefit of the doubt. But after you have been in your position for a while, every bit of trust is earned," said Kevin Pashuk, CIO of Appleby College.

No. 6: CIOs Have Zero Room For Failure; The Wicked Clock Is Always Ticking

Time is money—and with a lack of money, there is a lack of time. CIOs are forced and expected to complete projects on time and under budget. At the recent MES conference, the CIO of IEEE, Dr. Alexander Pasik, told the story of how he turned IEEE from a dysfunctional and isolated department of the organization to a successful business partner by completing an existing – yet failing -- project on time and under budget. He also explained how his CIO predecessors were terminated because they were draining resources, delivering unsuccessful results and not hitting the deadlines. Under Pasik's leadership, a several-year failed project was fixed and completed in less than 18 months.

Bottom line for CIOs: get it right the first time, because there is no room for error. CIO Nickolaisen refers to this as "lean IT." This method works to reduce waste of other types of processes.

No. 5: It Doesn't Matter If You're Scared Of Heights; Get In The Cloud

Gartner reports that CIOs are increasingly seeing the benefits of the cloud -- a leading way to improve IT with its proven advantages of saving money, doing more with less and increased agility. "To a certain extent, the cloud decision is being made for us. The fairly rapid expansion and adoption of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS services means that we must quickly, but correctly, figure out our own cloud strategies," said Niel Nickolaisen, CIO of Western Governors University. "Given the increasing number and quality of cloud offerings, we CIOs had better be the ones driving this cultural shift—otherwise, we are on the path to obsolescence," he continued.

No. 4: Beware: Many CIOs Lack Good IT Talent On Their Team

A recent survey study conducted at MES revealed that 41 percent of midmarket CIOs feel that they don't have enough people, but those they do have posses strong skills, and 18 percent said that they lack both people and skills. Many IT leaders are having a tough time finding staff that contain the "whole package" to cover IT needs that run from printers to support issues to networks, data delivery, mobility, storage, cloud, ERP and many more.

"Are any IT departments adequate today?" questioned Frederick Colclough, director of IT at Space Foundation. "Lately, my problem is that I get low-level techs without networking skills. Overall, my biggest challenge is obtaining staff who have a wide-ranging skill set to handle all of my areas."

No. 3: There's No Way Around BYOD, So Suit Up And Deal With IT

If you're a CIO and you haven't implemented a BYOD policy yet, you'd better do it now.

BYOD comes with a slew of new risks and security issues, especially in the health-care space because of sensitive patient data and HIPAA compliance rules. Technologies such as mobile device management (MDM), which was voted one of the top 10 technologies midmarket CIOs are looking to purchase in the next 12 to 18 months in a recent survey conducted at the Midsize Enterprise Summit (MES) West conference, will be sought after in 2014 if not already.

No. 2: Grab Your Business Costume Because Being A CIO Means Being A Leader In Business, Not Just IT

CIOs now have to be business leaders in addition to IT leaders. In the 1980s, the best CIOs might have been those who were focused on developing more efficient operations on behalf of their organizations. In the 1990s, and the early part of the last decade, IT leaders emerged as drivers of true business value.

"I think today we are seeing IT leaders, to a greater extent, becoming sources of innovation—leaders and drivers of innovation on behalf of their organization—and, this is a really exciting change," said Peter High, president of Metis Strategy. "I think there are a lot of exciting things that are happening within the IT leader or CIO role as a result of this ratcheting up of the degree of value that the IT leader can now assume within the corporate structure," High said.

No. 1: It's No Trick That CIOs Must Do More With Less

"Do more with less" is the exhausted phrase most associated with a CIO's daily life.

Recent Gartner research shows that the percentage of IT spend on operational expenses went down from 5.3 percent in 2012 to 4.7 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, IT spend per employee rose from $12,724 in 2012 to $13,164 in 2013. "CIOs are dealing with relatively slim budgets and resources, and they are also facing more pressure from their CEOs to justify IT investments. They need to quantify the business value of every IT investment made and know the total cost associated with it," said Jim Browning, Gartner research vice president.

Jeff McLarty, IT director at Ignited, said: "With smaller budgets, you learn to live with technology a little longer and try to identify where you can sneak out another six months, or maybe a year, on certain technology. It also makes you re-evaluate what you have, how much you're spending and determine when it's time to swap things out and actually innovate. It also makes you consider whether the vendor you chose is the best vendor to begin with."