The conventional wisdom in CIO circles is that it's better to report to the CEO. A CIO who reports to the CEO has a seat at the business table and the ear of the organization's most powerful person.
CIOs who have been there and done that, however, understand that a reporting line to the top doesn't ensure a role in how business decisions are made, much less the confidence of the boss. For a CEO-CIO reporting structure to bear fruit, the CIO must bring business acumen to the table and the CEO has to appreciate the value of IT.
A recent CIO event in the Boston area highlighted two CEO-CIO relationships that embody that business partnership.
The CEO-CIO pairs presenting at this conference are from very different companies: Andy Youniss and Jay Leader are CEO and CIO, respectively, of Rocket Software, a privately held provider of enterprise software, with headquarters in Waltham, Mass., and 1,300 employees globally. Martin Borg and James Bowen are CEO and CIO/COO, respectively, of Measured Progress Inc., a not-for-profit educational assessment provider for grades K-12, with clients nationwide and headquarters in Dover, N.H.
CIO builds a business portfolio
Leader, a regular speaker at Boston CIO events, is relatively new to his job. He joined Rocket about 18 months ago, after a four-year stint at iRobot, maker of Roombas and other home robotics. Bowen has been at Measured Progress since 2013. What stands out about their tenures at their respective companies is the steady increase in their responsibilities for areas that have an impact on business success, not just IT strategy.
Bowen was hired in 2013 at Measured Progress as CTO and "executive adviser to the CIO" on IT systems, with some responsibility for improving the company's assessment product and service. A year later, he was promoted to CIO, in charge of technology strategy; eight months later, he added the title COO, in charge of operations such as supply chain management, service center operations and corporate real estate, among others.
"Marty and I even joke," Bowen said of the CEO-CIO partnership: "We have this virtual line. I'll say, 'Marty, you take care of everything outside these four walls -- go get the business -- and I'll take care of everything internally; just point me in the right direction. ... and boom, we make it happen."
He added: "That communication between us is key."
Bowen attends board meetings and presents to the board at least once a year.
CEO-CIO partnership and the customer experience
At Rocket Software, Leader's boss is a software engineer by trade; 800 of the 1,300 Rocketeers, as employees are called, are also engineers, so there is no shortage of IT experts, and they are a demanding clientele, Youniss said. "I put myself in Jay's shoes, and I think he has a really tough job."
The employees Leader supports are globally located, and demand instant, reliable connections with a four-digit dial to boot, Youniss said. Because Rocket bills itself as a one-stop enterprise shop for all its clients' needs, the company's engineers develop and deploy on multiple platforms in multiple languages for every conceivable device. "And guess what? If Jay doesn't give them what they want, they can go to Amazon, to Microsoft and get it," Youniss said, adding that, of course, it's Leader they petition when a problem arises. Part of their CEO-CIO partnership is to help "set boundaries" around shadow IT, a problem shared -- and still unsolved -- by industries across the spectrum, Youniss said. "We're trying to tackle pieces of it."
James BowenCIO and COO, Measured Progress
In addition, Youniss and Leader are discussing changes in the CIO role. "Jay and I are talking right now about how he can have a more outward mission: focusing on our customers, connecting with our customers, understanding what our customers need and how they communicate with us," Youniss said. As CIO, Leader has taken a "leadership role in customer experience," he said. He said he believes Leader can help inculcate a customer-centric mind-set "deep into" the company, and to deal directly with external customers to help Rocket better understand their needs.
Measured Progress' Bowen, it turns out, has also assumed a more outward-facing role at the educational assessment firm, meeting with state departments of education clients and even touring facilities to better understand customer needs.
"I really get inside of what the customer wants, and then I can figure out how to crack that -- not just from an IT perspective, but from a business perspective," he said. The progression seems natural to him.
"I spent my first year as chief technology officer sorting out all the technology. My second year as CIO I spent understanding and learning the business, and influencing and gaining trust. And then my third year as COO is really about helping to grow the business." Bowen said.
To hear Youniss, Leader, Borg and Bowen talk about their CEO-CIO relationships, go to “Two CEO-CIO partnerships on display at CIO conference.”
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