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4 ways to build a successful CIO-CEO relationship

Digital business is having a profound effect on the CIO-CEO relationship. Here's how CIOs can seize the moment.

Is the CIO-CEO relationship entering a golden age? That might be up to CIOs. In part one of this article, senior news writer Nicole Laskowski reported on how CEOs from businesses as different as GE and Dunkin' Donuts see their relationships with their CIOs as critical to business success. Here, she lays out Gartner's prescription for how CIOs can exert leadership in this digital heyday.

While 25% of CEOs ranked technology as a top-three business priority in Gartner's latest CEO survey, Gartner analyst Mark Raskino knows it won't last forever. Digital business will eventually become business as usual, subjected to the same corporate politics and funding arguments as any other project. That's when the real IT work will begin, when CIOs will "move from peak digital to deep digital," Raskino said at the recent Gartner Symposium, and when long-term corporate planning will begin to play an important role.

Mark Raskino, analyst at GartnerMark Raskino

How can CIOs leverage what Raskino called the "irrational exuberance phase" and set themselves up as a strategic player before the excitement wears off? In addition to requesting and expecting CEO involvement, Raskino provided these tips.

Put a number on it. The No. 1 business priority for chief executives is growth, according to the Gartner CEO survey, and they're betting a good chunk of that growth will come from digital business. In fact, CEOs are expecting to see their digitally attributable revenue double over the next five years, regardless of what industry they're in.

And so, Raskino advised CIOs talk the talk and break down for business leaders the percentage of growth expected from digitized products and services.

"What do I mean by determine? I mean ask. What if there's no answer? I mean propose. What if no one understands the question? I mean build a prototype," Raskino said.

Get in on the long-term conversation. CIOs and senior IT leaders often talk about how the business is disinterested in long-term planning talks, but Raskino said, "it's not because they're not doing long-term planning; it's because you're not in it. That has to change."

But CIOs shouldn't turn to their chief marketing officers or sales directors, who tend to carry less influence on long-term planning than CIOs. Instead, Raskino said, CIOs would be better off befriending strategy officers, which exist at about 30% of businesses, and CFOs. "The finance director is by far the biggest player," he said. "When there's a long-range capital investment, they have to be involved."

He recommended CIOs also meet with chairmen and boards of directors, where some IT leaders are gaining ground, to provide influence. "The long-range position of the company will depend on the kinds of decisions they are making right now about digital," Raskino said. "And you are the most knowledgeable brain in the entire company. If you are absent from the table, you are weakening your own company."

Become a storyteller. Once CIOs have a seat at the table, percentages won't be enough of an influencer to drive mission-critical digital projects or the education of the C-suite forward. CIOs should have at-the-ready examples -- Raskino recommended three -- of companies and of CEOs who've jumped into digital and seen success. "Stories win," he said.

Shine a light on the work of CEOs at admired companies, such as Jeff Immelt's General Electric. Or consider the feat a company like Burberry pulled off under former CEO Angela Ahrendts. Or point to the digital fray Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent jumped into by digitizing vending machines and bringing the Coke-making experience to the kitchen counter with Keurig Kold. "You know and I know that sooner or later, they're going to Wi-Fi enable [the Keurig Kold] and streamline that data back to Coke," Raskino said.

Collaborate with competitors. Established businesses aren't just competing against the usual players anymore; instead, they're facing disruption from born-digital startups that are biting off just one piece of the business. Rather than fight digital startups on every front, Raskino suggested CIOs be proactive and collaborate with conventional competitors.

That's precisely what Mercedes, Audi and BMW did when they bought mapping services from Nokia last August as a way to combat the disruption they're seeing from the likes of Apple and Google, Raskino said. "The connected-car future needs maps, and they'd rather collaborate with each other because they're more fearful of the new guys than the old guys," he said. "This is the new collaborative behavior, and you need to get involved."

Talk internal security failure. Raskino's final point to CIOs is to "stop being polite about the behavior you see in the business units that are taking enormous cyber risks with your company," and start talking to the C-suite.

He suggested CIOs collaborate with CEOs, who are aware of the rising risks posed by technology, to pull back the curtain on bad behavior before internal embarrassments turn into serious attacks.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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