Job descriptions for CIOs vary widely. Some companies recognize that day-to-day IT activities often make it difficult to undertake long-term planning.

They create a corporate CIO position for someone whose sole purpose will be to develop and communicate long-term IT vision and strategy. These CIOs have no operational responsibilities (or resources) or infrastructure or applications to deliver. They are given a small staff, a small budget and many dotted-line reporting relationships with divisional information officers (DIO), who manage operational activities in the business units.

Beware! This job is usually designed for failure. It is normally filled by a CHUMP (a CIO hired for undoable management and planning) who is fired and replaced within a few years. Here are some of the reasons why this happens:

The CHUMP can’t solve problems

CIOs build creditability by solving problems for their customers. With limited resources, CHUMPs are unable to provide new IT capabilities or address complex business problems. As the organization learns that the CIO is unable to help, divisions stop calling, making the CHUMP irrelevant. (Except for CIOs of outsourced organizations, who usually have the outsourcer’s staff to solve problems.)

Individuals are less likely to support plans that they didn’t help develop

Vision and strategy are best developed collaboratively rather than presented and imposed from on high. In large organizations, implementing a new IT strategy requires many people to change their actions. Allowing people to participate in shaping the new strategy improves buy-in and long-term support. But CHUMPs are told to develop a corporatewide IT strategy and “tell” the business units how to comply. The new CHUMP at one global organization wanted to involve DIOs in a collaborative strategy-development process. Given budget constraints and time zone complications, she was told to limit meetings to one per year, making collaborative strategy development nearly impossible and virtually ensuring failure.

Multidivision projects are practically impossible

CHUMPs are typically found in organizations that have strong business units and weak central staffs. Although the organization acknowledges that some shared services (enabled by IT) would reduce costs, these efforts typically get bogged down in politics. One company decided to standardize desktop and communication functions globally. Each business unit was directed to contribute money and staff to this effort, coordinated by the CHUMP. Since the DIOs didn’t want the project to succeed, many of the assigned staffers were either incompetent or had other (higher) priorities. The CHUMP’s project limped along until it was eventually canceled.

The CHUMP is an easy target

Big penalties can result from violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulations, such as records retention, privacy and e-waste mandates. Even if the problem occurs in a business unit, the hunt for the guilty parties frequently starts at the corporate level.

California recently charged a company with failure to properly pay hourly workers for breaks. Since the ruling came down on the company rather than on a specific business unit, the CHUMP spent a lot of time defending himself, even though he had repeatedly warned the affected business units to improve their time accounting in manufacturing. It took several months before responsibility was shifted to the appropriate groups.

The CHUMP has little power to reward or punish

Because of their dotted-line reporting relationships, CHUMPs often have little power to affect performance appraisals or compensation. As a result, they are frequently ignored by DIOs.

It’s tempting to accept a CIO job that lacks the pressure of day-to-day responsibilities, but you will be trading operational problems for political machinations. Don’t accept a job that’s largely unworkable and usually doomed. Without sufficient resources and authority, you have nothing to leverage and no real pathway to success.

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Louisville, Ky.-based Leverage Partners Inc., which helps organizations invest well in IT. Contact him at BartPerkins@LeveragePartners.com.

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