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Two Peas In a Digital Pod: The CIO and CSO

by Peter Sondergaard  |  February 23, 2015  |  Comments Off on Two Peas In a Digital Pod: The CIO and CSO

CEOs know all too well the amount of jockeying, competition and political maneuvering that happens in their leadership team. In the C-suite, it’s simply the way business gets done. CIOs are not immune. Some win, but many struggle at this competitive, high-stakes game. Navigating relationships within the C-suite is so important to a CIO’s success that my colleague Tina Nunno wrote a book about it, and, judging by the first edition selling out and an updated second edition about to launch, it’s something that more and more leaders are seeking help on.

This competition is heating up immensely as every business unit becomes a technology startup. Left unsupervised, uncoordinated and misdirected, this frenetic march to digitalization has the potential to fracture your overall strategy. But as CEO, there’s an unlikely pairing on your leadership team that, if managed well, has the potential to make a hugely positive impact on your ability to corral and direct all these initiatives. Enter the CIO and chief strategy officer (CSO) tag team.

Don’t leave collaboration to chance

Whatever kind of strategy work your CSO is engaged in, there are likely to be significant digital and IT agenda consequences. Even if you don’t have a CSO in your organization, you’ll probably have key leaders assigned to strategic initiatives who play a similar role. Such as a Chief Digital Office (CDO). And digital-related strategy change moves fast. These leaders will help identify the extent to which digital business plays a role in the overall strategy, and then set in motion the actions required to address the digital capability gaps the enterprise might have.

As my colleague Mark Raskino points out in his most recent research (link for clients), this will inevitably have huge ramifications on your CIO’s technology agenda for the organization. So it’s imperative that you don’t leave this collaboration to chance; now is the time for you to invite your CSO and CIO to talk “team,” not “competition.” And to clarify role responsibilities for Digital in between all the executive roles involved in this transformation.

Make the right first impression

The increasing effects of digital business direction will undoubtedly bring the CSO’s orbit closer to your CIO’s. It’s critically important that your CIO does not see this as a threat to his or her position. Instead, you can set things off on the right foot by presenting this collaboration as a great opportunity for growth and advancement. The 2014 Gartner CEO and Senior Executive Survey shows that although CSOs have a significant role to play, digital business change is regarded as a team game, and the CIO has as much, if not more, credibility as anyone else around your table.

A profound and enduring impact

Your CSO is unlikely to be working on this agenda for more than a year or two, but the resulting change of direction for your organization could create high-impact technology work for your CIO for a decade to come. As Mark’s research indicates, this might sound like an exaggeration, but the work of CSOs during the e-business years (circa 1998 through 2003) had that kind of enduring impact; for example, setting up the original e-commerce strategies.

This is precisely why you can’t leave this kind of collaboration to chance. As CEO, take the lead in shaping the relationship between your CIO and CSO, or those leaders tasked with digital initiatives within your organization. If your right and left hands are coordinated, who knows, you might even stand a better chance of success at controlling those technology startups in your business units.


Category: symposium  technology-and-emerging-trends  

Peter Sondergaard
Former Executive Vice President, Research & Advisory
25 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Peter Sondergaard was an executive vice president and member of Gartner’s operating committee. He led the company’s Research & Advisory organization until August 2018.

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