A CIO’s Hierarchy of Needs


Early on in my role as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of AIIM, I read a Harvard Business Review Article by Ray Wang. In it, he outlined the Four Personas of the Next-Generation CIO. I felt a certain resonance with the article.

After having been a CIO for about 18 months now, I’ve decided that Ray only got it about half right. He beautifully covered the roles but he neglected the relationship between the roles.

The Four Roles

While you should read Ray’s article yourself, I thought I would list the four roles here for convenience.

  1. Chief “Infrastructure” Officers focus on cost reduction, and account for 65% to 70% of the overall IT budget. Most of this CIO persona’s projects prioritize keeping the lights on and managing legacy environments…
  2. Chief “Integration” Officers connect internal and external ecosystems. With 5% to 10% of the overall budget, this CEO persona must bring together a hodge-podge of business processes, data, systems, and connection points with legacy systems and newer cloud-based approaches…
  3. Chief “Intelligence” Officers empower the business with actionable insights. Representing between 10% and 15% of the overall budget, this CIO persona must improve business-user access to information. A key theme includes placing the right data to the right person at the right time on the right interface…
  4. Chief “Innovation” Officers identify disruptive technologies for pilot projects. Investing 5% to 10% of the overall budget, this CIO persona must drive innovation on a shoestring. Typically from business backgrounds, these leaders move fast, fail fast, and move on…

The article goes into more detail but it misses on the dependencies between the “roles”. In fact, I’d argue that you can’t focus on some roles until the others are mastered, or at least under control.

The Hierarchy of CIO Needs

These roles are really priorities for the CIO. Just like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they build upon each other and you cannot readily execute each subsequent level if the previous one isn’t sound. This isn’t to say that work won’t be done on multiple levels at any given time. It is just to say that each level must be predictable and under control before you can turn your focus to the next level.

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The most important thing any IT leader does is make sure that the lights are kept on. Systems and data have to be available at all times. It is “All Hands All Deck” when key systems go offline or become unavailable.

Once all the systems work, the next step is to make sure that they work together. Business functions don’t happen in isolation and if the communication isn’t there, errors occur and productivity sinks. Manual processes eat into morale and they don’t scale. If you want the business to grow, this level has be be accomplished.

Once the systems are talking to each other, you can actually act like a CIO. Up until now, the work has been Director of IT type of stuff. Now is the time to reap the benefits of the previous two levels and take that Information and make it more accessible and useful for the business. This is where analysis kicks in and a CIO starts adding real competitive advantage.

Finally, once you are pulling Intelligence, you can start getting truly innovative. You can do this in parallel if you have enough resources, but the initial Return On Investment (ROI) of the Intelligence level is usually high enough to deserve focus to get stated.. Innovation is where you start experimenting and trying to find that next, best thing.

Innovation isn’t easy, takes time, and has no guarantees. If you can find a true innovation, the leadership position that your organization can gain is massive.

The Last 18 Months

As CIO of AIIM, I’ve been working heavily on the bottom two levels with a little dabbling on the top two. While I want to try some innovative things, I am in no position to execute at that level until the bottom two levels are in a predictable state.

What we have been doing is bringing in new systems that make the Infrastructure more stable, make Integration easier, and will enable more Information to be at everyone’s fingertips. We are starting to see some benefits but we have more to do on the bottom two levels before we can focus on projects whose soul goal is to improve our Information accessibility.

My free advice to CIOs, and those aspiring to be one, be realistic about where you are in the CIO’s Hierarchy of Needs. Share the information with your fellow executives and the business owners. If you are brought on board to Innovate but you realize that you need to fix the Infrastructure first, make sure that everyone understands the relationship between them as you embark on that journey.

3 thoughts on “A CIO’s Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Fascinating that there are no higher-level information-oriented services there beyond “Insight.” Methinks Ray is too narrowly focused on analytics, and missing out on things that CIOs I know are also thinking very hard about, most notably collaboration and networking (totally information-rich and often lacking a champion outside IT) and marketing/communications support (lots of innovation and insight there, but also a ton of workaday information management where the primary goal is less efficience and more about effectiveness and revgen-oriented value)…

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    • Well, I see collaboration and networking as part of the bottom two layers. For some orgs they are innovation but I see them as part of the core business.

      I do think “Insight” is limiting as a term, but it starts with an “I”, so it works here. They point is leveraging the information in your systems to drive decisions in business. This is definitely a completely separate layer and can direct the focus of innovation.

      Finally, the levels are all about how you think about your job,

      – Are the systems up?
      – Do the systems talk?
      – What can our systems tell us?
      – What new things can we do to improve the business?

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