Lessons from the CIO graveyard

By Ramnath Iyer, Global Head, Corporate Research, CRISIL GR&A and CTO, CRISIL Limited

Ramnath Iyer CRISILThe jokes on technology are part of every corporate folklore and though bitter, most of them give insights to the short tenures of CIOs. Why are CIO tenures painfully short and is there an end in sight (pun intended). I’m not claiming to possess any answers, but only writing to share the top three lessons I have learnt from the CIO graveyard.

Lesson 1: IT Operations and Information Security is the Holy Grail

Never take operations or information security for granted. All it takes is one major outage or one teenage hacker defacing your website, for the funeral choir to begin. Excellence in strategy, leadership, team building, implementation of transformational projects and efficiency improvements will not save the CIO, if operations or information security is even marginally compromised.

Lesson 2: Contract carefully or the fine print will get you

All vendors and partners have an army of legal experts at their beck and call; remember it is their core business. CIOs have to find resources and expertise to understand every agreement that is inked and estimate the actual as well as contingent liabilities. Product licensing agreements are more complex than the theory of relativity and can dilate the CIO’s space as well as time. If the CIO gets one agreement wrong or does not track the deployment of even one software, the damages can be in millions. Licenses by themselves have successfully dug many CIO graves.

Lesson 3: No is never an option

For all miracles that technology has bequeathed, the IT department in most corporates is perceived as the greatest business inhibitor or at least shares the joint first spot with the legal team. The CIO is not only perceived as a technologist, with little or no understanding of business priorities but also someone who has no as an answer to most business requirements. Please remember complex questions on extent of documentation, deployment model, licensing preferences, offshoring mix, etc. also qualify as a ‘no, it cannot be done’. Any business that encounters a Nay person will happily sponsor an express ticket to the graveyard.

So are CIOs who have learned the above lessons canonized?

Well let me answer that with a few lines from my favorite poet Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
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