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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  The CIO’s job is the hardest in the C-suite.   A true CIO is expected to do everything from technology strategy through IT operations.  This means that the following demands and threats are constantly pummeling the CIO:

  1. Project failures – IT is generally running some of the largest, most complex, most strategic projects in the business.  We’ve all seen the studies on failures.  Have you seen the one by McKinsey that 17% of large IT projects are so disastrous they threaten the very existence of the company?  Even if the CIO isn’t managing the projects directly, he has to be on top of their status, issues and risks to ensure more of the projects are a success.
  2. Operational failures – This is typically a pretty small part of the CIO’s job, but unfortunately, when the network or critical business apps go down, everyone looks at the CIO. She better know enough to dive in and manage the crisis. This means she has to be on top of the risks and issues to ensure problems are identified before they take down the company.
  3. Security threats – This one would keep me up at night. It is hard to get the right attention on this until things go wrong. Luckily, boards are getting more and more interested in this topic, so the CIO is now tending to get more support here.
  4. Peer relationships – The CIO is in the unenviable spot of needing to be responsive and helpful when things go wrong, but also needing to find the right time and way to give strategic advice.  It is hard to balance those two roles, and that’s arguably a full time job in its own right.
  5. Technology trends – A good CIO is not only talking to his business peers about their business strategy and specific business needs, but he is also counseling them on how technology trends will impact the company.  He needs to be up to date on where they are going with mobile, analytics, social, cloud and more.  Some of this can be delegated or outsourced, but the CIO really needs to understand these trends in some depth to be a good strategic adviser.
  6. Vendor ambush – The phone rings off the hook and emails swarm the CIO’s inbox.  She could spend all her time just meeting with all the various vendors who insist they have the answer that will save her.  But, some of them actually do, so she will want to spend some amount of time doing this, but picking the right vendors and seeing through the vaporware is a skill in itself.
  7. Coaching and mentoring – The CIO tends to have some of the largest, most diverse pools of talent in the organization and they are a tricky crowd to motivate and develop.  Architects require a different kind of coaching than the service desk manager.

I am in awe of my clients who do this job with ease.  It seems like 7 different jobs to me!  And I can’t think of another job that has the same significance of demands and threats as the CIO must face every day.