Being a chief information officer (CIO) is a challenging job. Whether your goal as a CIO is to thrive, or merely to survive, you must juggle:

  • Projects: delivering on time, on budget and with high quality
  • Costs: maintaining acceptable IT cost levels relative to overall business budgets
  • Reliability: providing acceptable up time, response time and security of key systems
  • Support: responding to customer and system needs for troubleshooting and preventative maintenance

These could be viewed as basic, traditional areas of responsibility, and they have been around since the beginning of IT. Today, additional CIO demands and expectations include

  • Innovation: using technology to bring new business solutions to the table
  • Partnerships: building and managing relationships with technology vendors, business partners and executives within your company
  • Staffing: providing the necessary resource levels and skill sets, including outsourcing
  • Comparisons: gathering intelligence on the competition and performing well relative to competitive benchmarks

Some technology analysts have suggested there is too much for the CIO to do, that expectations are so high a CIO cannot possibly meet them. They further suggest the path for the CIO is to focus on one or two responsibilities, and do well at those.

Where to focus

Can a CIO succeed or survive if projects are delivered well, but IT costs are out of control? If costs are managed, but no technology innovation is brought to the business? If innovation is brought forward, but vendor relationships are not cultivated? Like juggling chainsaws, it is dangerous to take your eye off any of these.

I submit that a CIO must address all of these eight elements to be successful. He/she must be "holistic" in approach to the job and its underlying responsibilities.

As Ronald Reagan said, "It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?" I am not suggesting you must do all of these by yourself, but I am suggesting you take accountability for each, drive results in each, and monitor progress of each.

As a healthcare CIO, I used the framework above to monitor progress or issues in each area. Annually, I utilized this framework to report on each of these elements to our board of directors. It served as a CIO report card, or balanced scorecard.

Art vs. science

One might argue that being a CIO is an art, based on soft skills and experience. I, however, aim to focus on the science of being a CIO, the "how to." I will detail numerous approaches and techniques from my 30-plus years of IT management, to offer nuggets of information that may help with improvement in each of these eight CIO responsibilities.

While soft skills (e.g., communication, leadership, decision-making) are important to the role, we'll delve into the more specific hard skills needed. For example, in negotiating technology contracts, communication skills are important to the task, but we'll address specific contract details that can make the technology contract better, like avoiding "then current" fees on renewal.

Why listen to me?

I do not suggest I possess all the answers to the mysteries of being a CIO. But given my decades of IT management experience, and success by third-party objective measures, my goal is to share the secrets I have discovered, to give back to the IT community.

I have been accused of being well-organized and direct. The style of my writing is a reflection of that — a style I have used for years in executive presentations. CIOs, like other business executives, do not have time for lengthy, complex material.

This and future articles hopefully will enable quick, pinpoint navigation, to help you quickly focus on a specific area of interest or area for improvement. From there, I aim to provide specific techniques from my experience in that particular area. I hope you will find a nugget here and there to help you on your IT journey.