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How the CIO can have a successful relationship with their CEO

Keep it simple

If there's one thing that can lose the CEO, it is jargon. "A CIO has to speak a 'normal' language. Not too technical, not too specific, not too complex," says Professor Bob Hoogenboom, an expert on online security at Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

Information technology, data warehouses, cloud computing, cybersecurity and Bitcoins are complex issues – even at board level. "The core task for the CIO is to translate these terms into simple propositions and business cases that every CEO can understand," says Hoogenboom.

The communications gap can lead to the CIO and CEO not seeing eye-to-eye. "Communication and understanding are critical, as is access," says Chris Forde, general Manager APAC at the Open Group. "Filtered communications can easily be misunderstood or mishandled. Hearing the CEO communicate their messages and concerns directly is ideal but, depending on the CIO's place in the organisation, is not always possible."

Where the CIO has direct access, an ongoing dialogue should be occurring to agree on expectations and outcomes in order to develop understanding and trust. The communication from the CIO needs to be in business terms avoiding jargon and buzzwords, and making the technology value appreciable in context for the CEO.

"The main measure is delivering on commitments. If you as a CIO are constantly missing the mark, or the CIO and CEO are not agreeing on expectations and outcomes, the effect is the same. A lack of confidence and trust develops," says Forde.

Looking to other execs beyond the CEO

The secret of making the relationship between the CIO and CEO successful is in acknowledging that the CIO's place in the organisation is changing. "The role can be perceived as an IT Strategy Leader. VPs of sales or marketing are no longer the only ones responsible for the company's results," says Richter.

"The IT manager should be the CEO's aide-de-camp in expanding the company. The CIO needs to identify trends inside and outside the company, to define new initiatives and to discover any barriers or problems involving the company's automation and the advanced capabilities that information systems enable."

Richter says it is a good idea to harness technology knowledge from other key players in the organisation.

"There is no reason why the initiative to buy a new application shouldn't come from any of the company's departments, especially since the internal customer's understanding of technology is so high today. Non-IT managers, such as marketing and HR, are always on the lookout for new technological tools to spend their time in the most efficient way – and so the CIO must utilise this knowledge and collaborate with other executives to select new technologies."

Broad vision

He adds that only the IT manager has the broad, professional vision necessary to decide. If systems are incompatible, reporting becomes complex or almost impossible. "This is where leadership on the part of the CIO comes in," Richter notes.

The CIO's role is changing and so is their relationship with the CEO. It is this relationship that is central to the success of the rest of the organisation. With a positive relationship that involves clear communication and access, significant change and innovation can be driven within the business.