Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CIO Tenure: Sprint or Marathon

There's an interesting debate on CIO tenure, which varies from 18 months to seven years, with average of 4-5 years, how long is “long” enough for CIO to deliver the value and unleash IT potential? How exciting or frustrating is CIO’s journey: like running a Sprint or participating in marathon? What may cause CIO running out of way? What is positive outlook on it?

1. Research Statistics 

The tone is positive: the tenure of CIOs is actually up in recent years as more & more enterprises understand the criticality of IT and stability of CIO role will help business build long term strategy with consistent project delivery as well as progressive overall business capabilities.
  • Research Signals Optimism: The research of the four of five top IT research firms find that CIO tenure periods averaged a low of 2.3 years for a brief period from 2004 to 2006, since then,  it has risen to 5.3 years across the world,  including small, medium, and large companies.  
  • Gartner, CIO magazine and others cite an average for CIOs in studies conducted in 2010 as being 4 to 5 year tenure. It surely does depend on the size of the company, the industry, whether the CIO is an internal or external hire, and the organizations' hiring process. 

2. How long is “long” enough for CIO journey? 

CIO is technically strategic leadership role of the organization and requires a strategic plan that pushes out 5 years. Stop gaps and low hanging fruit are targeted in the first year while the laying the foundation for 1-3-5 year technology roadmap. Thus, less that 3.5 years average tenure for a CIO might be very questionable.

<· A forming storming norming and performing CIO Duration Analysis approach 
It takes about a year for a new CIO to fully understand the business, and a year to then plan changes, that can then be executed starting the third year. That probably does vary with the size and complexity of the business
Forming & Storming = 1st yr
Norming = 1- 1.5 yrs
Performing = 3rd Year onwards 

·  A longer tenure makes sense for transformation effort:  To be an effective CIO, one would need at least 6-12 months to conduct own assessment and findings before making significant recommendation or changes. If the CIO tenure is really 18 months, then the scope of the business strategy is out of synch with the value of the technology and what a CIO brings to the table. it takes longer term in seeking real business and technical transformation. Just imagine the IT team when the ´boss' would last only 18 months - what sense would it make to even try to fill the framework the CIO will set?

· The longevity of the current CIO and his/her predecessors should be mapped to the company's C-Level changes: CIO need learn to step in the new shoes in his or her first ninety days (or three months), so if the average tenure is 18 months, this effectively leaves the CIO with 15 months to do whatever needs to be done.  1 1/2 years is not appropriate for CIO tenure. He/She can not effect changes within the organization in that timeframe. He/she cannot encourage financial and budgetary objectivity for the IT organization. The CEO will look at the IT organization as a transitional organization that does not require its full support.

So that means the minimal meaningful tenure for a CIO is at least 3 years.

3. Treat & Trick on the Way 

CIO Business Understanding is critical at both the C-Level Executives and BOARD Levels. Still, due to the CHANGE nature of technology, CIOs may face more tougher choices than other type of executive on the journey, be more proactive or reactive? be more aggressive or risk-averse, forward-looking organizations should empower their CIOs on the journey:

·       A CIO's main role is as a change agent. If a CIO shows a lack of business understanding, agility and strategy focus then their days are numbered. The other CXO's will eat that individual alive at the Executive Management Level . The same person will also be out of synch with the Board, since they will tend to speak technological transaction instead of business transformation
  • Governance Framework: From a holistic business/enterprise perspective, an average of 4-5 yrs for a CIO is thus meaningful strategy implementation time and of potential value in setting up an IT Governance culture and measurable IT Governance framework during that period.
    - Stakeholder Transparency
    - Resource Optimization
    - Risk Optimization
    - Governance Framework setting and maintenance
    - Benefits Delivery     
  • Ambidextrous Talent needed: Most CIOs do not have many staff who can play the business/tech role very effectively (primarily a result of how stovepipe typical IT shops are). Without this type of player, combined with all of the normal keeping the lights on type of activities required of the role, most are at a significant disadvantage: for example, how many really good Chief Architects do you know of? These are the folks who understand business, profitability, product, keep tabs on the attitudes of your business partners, some level of hands-on coding, project management and also are good with people (business and tech)? 
  • “Political Tricks”: It seems that the tenure of a CIO does not depend only on good IT skills, vision and business awareness. One should be also competent in playing the "political" corporate games. Such soft skills are usually not on the curricula of engineering faculties. The organization's attitude to CIO & IT may also reflect its business culture and vision, do they treat IT as order taker or do they think IT as value center? Do they think CIO as business peer to make contribution for long term strategy, or they just look at CIO as technician working in back office....with nature of transaction
  • CIOs also need do some self-reflection: What kind of leaders are you? character-based, creative or charismatic, especially, most of CIOs need become adaptive leaders, with ability to deal with complexity, ambiguity, and influence the positive culture, from order taker to rule maker, and proactively lead the change.
CIO’s tenure might not be as long as tortoise’s life span, however, CIO journey is more like marathon than sprint, it takes strategy, planning, stamina, energy and continuous motivation and inspiration.


Your posting is truly excellent, Pearl.


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