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The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership

MarthaMartha Heller's new book, The CIO Paradox, highlights and explains some of the contradictions that CIOs face in the world today. This review by Vaughan Merlyn features some highlights from the book as well as his opinion on certain elements and propositions put forth in it. The book itself, as Merlyn explains, is broken into 4 major sections:

  • Your Role
  • Your Stakeholders
  • Your Organization
  • Your Industry
The four sections include a description of the paradoxes found in each, and how leading CIOs manage to escape those paradoxes through best practices. Consider, for instance, the paradoxes that exist for the role of the CIO:
  • You were hired to be strategic, but spend most of your time on operational issues.
  • You are the steward of risk mitigation and cost containment, yet you are expected to innovate.
  • You are seen as a service provider, yet you are expected to be a business driver.
  • IT can make or break a company, but CIOs rarely sit on corporate boards.
So how does a CIO escape those paradoxes? Merlyn uses his own experience of identifying which paradoxes were already solved or are in the process of being solved, which ones seem impossible to solve, and which practices from the book should be implemented (and why). By creating this priority list of what can change, what could change, and what is changing, CIOs can more accurately see what paradoxes they are falling into, and perhaps which are more important to resolve.

Near the end of his review, Merlyn lists two practices he determined from reading the book and completing a “breaking the paradox” checklist:

 1. Reach beyond IT. CIOs are picking up new titles left and right. We see “CIO and VP of customer care,” and “CIO and VP of strategic planning” all the time. Whether they take on an additional title or not, it is time that CIOs apply their leadership far beyond the IT organization. 2. Move closer to the revenue. When technology data is directly related to a company's products or services, the CIOs of those companies have a shot at driving revenue.

 Both point out how the CIO needs to not think of themselves as simply IT – the business is IT as much as IT is the business, and this requires the CIO (the head of IT) to expand their role and influence. The truly successful CIOs will be the ones who integrate themselves with therest of the business and, specifically, helping the organization generate revenue. Beyond simply being an observational book, The CIO Paradox also provides some ideas about how to strengthen the role of the CIO and better manage the paradoxes that a CIO encounters. So if you're interested in knowing what paradoxes exist for the CIO, which ones you're dealing with (and which ones you're in without even knowing it), Merlyn recommends reading this book. It not only provides theory but also actionable practice and time saving techniques.    You can visit Martha Heller's website at:  

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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