05:12 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Global CIO: The Myth Of The Social-Misfit, Business-Bozo CIO

Piling on to the popular myth that CIOs know tech but nothing else, a new study's flawed conclusions show that the real know-nothings are the researchers.

Here's our latest installment in our week-long "IT's Golden Opportunity" series, in which we take a look at the harmful stereotypes still dogging CIOs.

First the bad news: another so-called "research study" has come out purporting to prove that CIOs are slide-rule dweebs knowing nothing about business, leadership, and strategy. To make the matter much worse, the authors have published a column about their so-called "findings" in the high-profile Wall Street Journal.

The good news is, the "research" and all its pointy-headed findings have all the credibility of Tiger Woods because they are based on assessments carried out across 11 years with about 30 CIOs. Let me repeat: based on interactions with about 30 CIOs across 11 years.

The trick, you see, is that the three researchers from Santa Clara University who brewed up this hokum will defend the CIO-damning headline on their piece—"Why CIOs Are Last Among Equals"—by saying that their work includes "extensive assessments" of "senior administrative capabilities" of more than 600 professionals. But only "some 30" of those 600 were, in fact, CIOs--the rest are "professionals" and no doubt are terrific people but one thing they are certainly not is CIOs.

But that certainly didn't stop the researchers from mischaracterizing their skills and personalities as those of CIOs—as in, "Why CIOs are last among equals" and "Are CIOs doomed to forever be second-class citizens among top executives?"

Yes, about 30 CIOs out of 600 people evaluated. That's about 5% of the sample size, sprinkled daintily across 11 years. That means that these three "experts" on the CIO profession engaged with, on average, one CIO every 134 days spread out across more than a decade. But from such thin gruel they were able to shape a caricature of today's CIO—as we shall see in their own blunt language in just a moment—as clueless on everything from strategy to business to leadership to communication to listening to building relationships to covering LeBron James on a fast break.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens' immortal Bumble the Beadle, "If that is expertise, then expertise is a ass." As we've discussed recently, these days the skewering of CIOs as nitwits in every context except Unix kernels has become popular sport, and it seems these three opportunistic professor-types have decided to pile on in spite of their stunning lack of evidence for doing so.

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And—to the researchers' marketing credit, if not to the credit of their research rigor and relevance—their summary article about their findings appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a high-profile media property whose perspectives will surely help shape current perceptions of CIOs and reinforce the canard that CIOs know blade servers inside and out but wouldn't know a customer from a line of custom code.

Worse yet, the researchers took their findings from "assessments" of about 570 "IT professionals" and extrapolated them to the vastly more-demanding realm of the CIO, and in spite of that felt absolutely no compunction about making a wide range of devastating claims about the gross inadequacies of CIOs, including these:

---"Based on our research, it's clear that most CIOs don't have the broad business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills that it takes to run a company or at least play a bigger role in running one."

---"IT managers are seriously deficient in their knowledge of strategy."

---"IT managers possess poor synthesis skills—that is, the ability to pull together all the available information to solve a business problem or achieve a business goal."

---"On one level, we haven't found IT professionals to be bad communicators. They speak well and, in general, exhibit a helpful and supportive attitude. Our conclusion is that the common belief that IT people don't communicate effectively is due to the absence of good questioning, listening and sales skills."

---"We have found that very few of the students who have attended our program have strong leadership skills."

---"In our experience, IT managers know what characterizes strong relationships, but lack the skills to build such relationships at work."

I particularly liked a followup point to this last spurious claim that implies that CIOs have the real-world awareness of a 3-year-old: "For example, these managers may correctly identify trust as one of the most important characteristics of a strong relationship. But they don't fully understand how easily trust can be eroded—by not returning a phone call, for instance, or by being late for an appointment."

At long last, there it is—the key to unlocking the essential business-technology dynamic: you bozo CIOs just need to stop ignoring phone messages and stop showing up late for meetings!

But do not despair: the authors/researchers have been gracious enough to offer some salvation to you clueless morons as they ask, "So, how can CIOs and IT managers acquire these skills?" And while it may shock you, the answer offered by these three entrenched members of Santa Clara University is a program involving—wait for it!—classroom instruction from academics!

To bring this sorry tale to a close, let me play off the headline over the researchers' Journal piece and propose this headline for an article about members of the professorial class who engage in bait-and-switch research: "Why Irrelevant Research Does More Harm Than Good."

Coming tomorrow in our week-long series on "IT's Golden Opportunity": real and credible academic insight on IT and the CIO based on recent observations from a leading researcher in the field: Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT.


Global CIO: The Golden Age Of IT Has Begun: 6 Reasons Why

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Global CIO: Welcome To The CIO Revolution: A New IT Manifesto

Global CIO: Hewlett-Packard's Hurd Says Bad IT Means A Bad CEO

Global CIO: Do CIOs Still Matter?

Global CIO: Apple's Steve Jobs Torpedoes Another Stale Business Model

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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