Here's the thing: Complex as they are, these new applications are critical to the success of the overall business. The website of 2000 was important, but if it wasn't operating properly, the company could still function. If today's Web-enabled application isn't available, business grinds to a halt. This reflects how, over time, these applications have insinuated themselves into the core functionality of the company-and made their successful operation critical to the operation of the business.
Now, do you think a CIO can get by without understanding the key elements of these type of applications? Without recognizing the weak aspects of the application where failure or performance bottlenecks can ruin successful user engagement with the application?
The counter argument to this perspective is that the technology is too complex and covers too many areas for any individual to comprehend it all in detail, let alone a CIO with so many other responsibilities.
That is true. However, it's critical that the CIO possess a sufficiently deep technical background to feel comfortable discussing current technology matters. Someone whose technology familiarity stopped in 1986, or whose background is in finance, cannot function in a role of head of information technology.
Believe me, there is a world of difference between someone who understands technology-and as a result has to weigh alternatives and disputes among different groups involved in a technology discussion-and someone who doesn't really have any technology background and arbitrates by non-technical criteria. The difference between them is the difference between an organization that gets things right on technology-or, when it gets things wrong, can recognize the issue and quickly correct it-and one that makes poor decisions that result in fragile, constrained applications.
In Today's Economy, CEOs Obligated to Know Tech
Frankly, that issue of talking to the CEO in business language with which he or she is comfortable is a red herring. The fact is, businesses today are technology businesses. Information technology is core to what they do. Something so critical to a company's success imposes an obligation on a CEO to comprehend it. After all, do you think the CEO of GM refuses to engage with the head of manufacturing on supply chain issues even though it's a highly technical subject? Why, then, is it OK for a CEO to deflect an IT discussion because it's highly technical?
Now that I think about it, it might be time to turn the whole argument on its head. The statement shouldn't be that CIOs aren't businesslike enough. It's that too many of today's CEOs are insufficiently technical.