Barney's Rubble

CIO Blind Spots

Can CIOs really be the all-knowing technology gurus we want them to be?

To the IT community, the CIO is the pinnacle, an all-knowing master of technology and business. I wish it were always true. But as smart as most CIOs are, political intrigue and bureaucratic inertia have some top tech execs paralyzed. They simply don't know enough about what's happening beneath them to truly make the right decisions.

To put it succinctly, CIOs have a huge blind spot. It's not totally their fault. Managers are only as good as the information and trust gained from their subordinates. And too often, staff-level IT pros have little—or no—interest in keeping their CIOs informed. Software jockeys, hardware wonks and network geeks all have their own self-interest. They want a relatively easy life (as easy as IT can be), and they want to protect that life and control their destiny. That means keeping the CIO in the dark.

Unfortunately, many CIOs have become too removed from the action to know the difference. Part of the problem is that CIOs attempt to control a huge range of technologies, each of which is staggering in complexity and choice. The bigger issue is that CIOs are distracted by business issues, which IT staffers are only too happy to take advantage of. Many CIOs prefer the executive washroom and hobnobbing with big wigs to visiting the trenches.

The result of this sorry situation is that technical cream doesn't rise to the top. Instead, fiefdoms have emerged. Just as mainframers fought the PC hordes, telecom groups have resisted all too successfully the logic of voice over IP, and programmers have held new projects such as intranets or .NET hostage through simple inaction.

Inaction has only gotten worse during the budget crunch IT has faced in recent years. "No money" is a great excuse to do nothing.

Recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution. CIOs must look around and peer deeply into what they don't know. And they should consider 360-degree reviews where staffers critique the CIO and hopefully offer a tip or two. Finally, CIOs shouldn't become too detached from the technology—losing your chops may mean losing the respect of your technical troops.

Doug Barney An Ozzie Encore
You may have noticed the sharply dressed gentleman on our cover. New Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie may be the most technically accomplished employee in Redmond, aside from Bill himself. Ozzie worked on the very first spreadsheet, built Lotus Symphony, wrote Notes and started two successful software companies from scratch.

But there's a lot more we can learn from Ray. Check out the full interview on Redmondmag.com and Ozzie's blog—in particular his thoughts on why rich clients make sense: www.ozzie.net/blog.

As always, send your thoughts, good, bad or indifferent, to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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