Missing CIO

It's the boardroom, where decisions are made that affect the long-term success and failure of an enterprise, but it's still rare to hear that regional CIOs are deeply involved at the boardroom level.

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By  Nathan Statz Published  May 2, 2009

It's the boardroom, where decisions are made that affect the long-term success and failure of an enterprise, but it's rare to hear that CIOs are deeply involved in that process or accorded the proper respect that a C-level executive demands. Nathan Statz asks why this is the case.

When television shows such as The IT Crowd are lampooning the technology department of a major enterprise, it's a good sign that the reality has progressed far beyond the stereotypes of a room filled with geeks asking "have you have tried turning it off and on again?"

Despite the fact that IT departments have been recognised as an asset to the business and are being treated as such, the CIOs responsible for all those hardworking computer science graduates are still lacking a seat on the board. What makes this more noticeable is the other well-dressed executives with C-level titles - CEOs, CFOs, and COOs - are common faces around the boardroom.

The duty of the CIO is to be the link between management and the geeks. The role of the CIO is very special and a lot of people have difficulty getting a CIO because the CIO really is a very special person.

Mohammed Khatib, CIO of the Amman Stock Exchange believes the board operates on more of a strategic level, with the discussions over the polished-oak table not really focusing on executive and day-to-day issues, as that's the duty of the CEO.

"The duty of the CIO is to be the link between management and the geeks. The role of the CIO is exceptional and a lot of people have difficulty getting a CIO because the CIO really is a very special person," he says.

Further to this, the CIO needs to be involved in the technology and understand the business. As Khatib explains, it is extremely hard to find people with this combination of traits.

"People who are good at IT are usually class A geeks, people who are only concerned about technology and getting the fastest machines, and the business is something else. The business is knowing how you can use the technology to improve the business, but does not always involve getting the best machinery and having the latest stuff," he adds.

"It is like being a driver, you need the car to work and you want to have the best car that exists, but you don't want to be concerned with the details. You just want it to work and you get the technician to maintain the car for you, it is more or less the attitude," says Khatib.

The Amman Stock Exchange highlights a particular case where IT is a core function of the business, rather than a lesser one. When you consider the amount of technology powering international trading platforms - not to mention the dollar values being exchanged as numbers on an electronic sign go up and down - it is easy to see why.

For Khatib, the lack of a boardroom seat does not mean he is a stranger to the meetings as the CEO will call him in at any time, if further clarification on IT matters is needed.

"As IT you don't want to be on the board, as IT, what you want is for things to happen, regardless of who makes the final decision. What you care about is for projects to happen and if you can initiate the project and have someone else take responsibility for it - then good!" he continues.

The Middle East is no stranger to the importance of IT, yet Khatib believes that organisations won't be adding another C-level acronym to a boardroom nameplate anytime soon.

"In the region it's going to continue to be like that, people value technology, they want it, they know that they want it, they know that they can't do without it, but they still see us as being more or less garage mechanics," he adds.

"I was reading in Fortune a few months ago that the Institution of Systems Management were saying that there is a 50% lack of CIOs in the United States. They say the problem is hugely masked because these positions are in fact filled, but with the wrong people," says the ASE's Khatib.

This builds on the theory of CIOs being cut from a management or IT cloth, with a woven mixture of the two being somewhat rare.

IT versus management

You mentioned that organisations usually have one or two choices - either getting a business person and making them a CIO or getting a technical person and teaching him the business and then making them a CIO - which category do you fit into?

I actually started my career as a management consultant, but I love the technology, I ended up going to University and getting a degree - a masters in IT - and becoming a technical person. But I am still a management consultant at heart, but I tell you it is everyones problem - you talk to any company and everyone is complaining about it - the problem with IT is the missing link and the person who appreciates both worlds and it is extremely hard to find someone like this.

I have this problem that when I am away I don't have a replacement because of this - I have excellent technical people but when I am away they talk to the CEO the same way they talk to me and end up confusing the CEO.

Mohammed Khatib, CIO of the Amman Stock Exchange

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