Good Cops, Bad Cops, Schizos – CIOs are not just Suits anymore

|November 22, 2016 0
Everyone is chanting the digital hymn, but not many are turning their eyes to how this visceral change in business conference rooms is changing the CIO costume. Have you got the memo yet?

Pratima H

MUMBAI, INDIA: CIOs are strange creatures and if they were sitting in a school campus, they would most probably be the bunch of studious introverts that captures the front row and hangs on to every word the teacher says. They would stay away from sports, the tub of pink punch, party pranks or any form of adventure. Athletes, Cheer-leaders and trouble-makers would never rub shoulders with them at the canteen.

In the campus called corporate world, they keep away from the front row for entirely similar reasons – allergies from adventure, comfort of the invisibility cloak and the joy of not having to carry stupid pom-poms.

Things do not stay the same when a new principal struts in and shakes this world upside down, inside out and corner-to-corner. The notice board now screams of this digital captain; and whether they like it or not, every group will have to mix up, change attires, and re-arrange their worlds.

How easy is it even on paper? And how worthy of the trouble and pain that will definitely accompany this cocktail of designations and roles?

Here’s someone who not only focuses on helping C-level executives on IT governance, IT strategy and organizational issues but also coaches CIOs on how to develop their careers into new transformational roles and how they can become true business trusted allies.

Alvaro Mello is Research VP, CIO Research Team, Gartner and has been working with boards of directors supporting organizations in the digital economy in the creation of IT committees to bring the IT strategy theme to the board agenda.

Mello gets in the cracking mode here and demystifies the answers of this new mixed-up world. Being referees, being tinkerers, being cops, and being daring enough to walk towards the CXO row – CIOs have a lot of work cut out for them, it seems.

You talked empathically about CIOs changing into trusted allies at the Gartner Symposium. What has actually changed for the CIO today?

The most important change for CIOs is that they are finally moving where they should have been moving. They have to be supporting business leaders 75 per cent of their time. More CIOs have to get used to this role. Most CIOs love to read our research on Bimodal IT but they have to start realising the need for action to make it all happen. It’s time for new relationships with the C-leaders and with new contexts.


CIOs should ideally spend three to four days of a week on corporate matters and not on IT department matters. They should quickly find a right hand in IT that can take over the keys to IT and should make the change clear to everyone – to this IT successor, to HR and business leaders. Behave like a business leader even if the job title does not change. Change the conversations you participate in as a CIO.

Alvaro Mello

Alvaro Mello

Why is this change such a struggle? What mistakes are CIOs making?

Yes, a very small number of CIOs actually see themselves in the ‘ally’ category. Most are still caught up in the transactional ground. There is nothing wrong with that. Budgets, operations, IT dashboards are important but they should not be the props of the comfort zone. Ask yourself- are these metrics really enough? They still wait for demands to be defined by business and then deliver IT as a solution. They are not proactive.

But it can’t be easy to have two hats on at the same time. Being schizophrenic can’t be that charming?

The very reason that things are turning bimodal is because we have to be more interconnected. Technology curves have changed drastically. Without really experimenting with new stuff, one cannot make business decisions. CIOs have, in some way, changed from a business-requirement notepad to a C-level executive, they just don’t know it. It is not a question of a CIO’s competence. Things are little complex and need exploration. There is no formal recipe for change. Allow yourself for becoming ready and experiment with the bimodal concept.

So should they play the good cop or the bad cop when they strike new equations and maintain old ones?

As CIOs engage in this bimodal journey, they have to take on bimodal leadership as well. In a CFO conversation, a CIO would have to be in a different mode where traditional mindset, governance, IT committee approach and structure take importance. The same day, in another conversation with the CMO, this CIO would have to display an open and energetic vibe and remove barriers for new and experimental things. If it’s a good idea about a new start-up, it should get going the very next Monday.

But the truth is that most people like being in their comfort zones. Most CIOs are not ready to move beyond templates, flags, score-cards and traditional perspectives. The result is that the rest of the C-Suite leaders do not connect with them.

Wouldn’t all this leave them playing referee between the IT department and other departments most of the time?

Companies are demanding a thawing of silos more and more as we move towards the future. Life as an executive can become complex. It’s all about personal courage. If a CIO does not step up to be a business leader, no one else around would mind, but they would look for people nonetheless who can take up important leadership roles. Be less reactive. Be at the centre of design and decision in the company. It’s not that hard.

May be it’s one’s own innate personality that can make it hard. Are personalities the reason that CIOs do not change?

Some CIOs’ personal values and ways may not match with a position that opens up. Some are content at waking up in the morning and working for the paycheck at the end of every month. One cannot fake personal desires and ambitions, or their lack thereof. If someone is not passionate and motivated for the product or business one works for, it’s hard to take up a leadership role. This requires learning and one has to be open, consistently curious and set examples to start with.

Are the young CIOs in a better posture to wear new roles?

I guess it is not a question of age or experience but of the behavior and level of maturity that one can display. Anyone who has been a good CIO before and is now willing to take a business leadership position is a good choice – whether this person is a digital native or not. Young people are however, good with digital design decisions.

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