% fortune -ae paul murphy

A CIO taxonomy

Since I'm planning on phasing out my defen book in favor of a new adventure in publishing, and have spent this week talking about hiring related issues, I thought it might be fun to close the week with this excerpted guide to the most common CIO stereotypes.

Number one is the bluffer. Bluffing is the easiest and most common CIO survival strategy. This generally works well for many people because it leverages the simplistic assumptions senior executives usually make about systems to retain credibility with them and then uses their imprimatur to shield the CIO from direct criticism.

Basically, the rule is that if you spend enough time micro managing staff expense accounts while rushing around telling outsiders how well you're doing, most people won't notice that you're having a lot of lunches with vendors but not doing anything about the systems problems causing overtime expenses in Accounts Payable.

The "tweetie nerd" strategy is pretty common too. This type of CIO spends his time meeting with people outside both his own systems group and the internal chain of command while muttering darkly about external threats and loudly asserting his support for user oriented desktop services. In reality, however, he depends on a few main applications that run on a single Unix or OS/400 machine somewhere and keeps most desktops at least a full generation behind the market.

This works because the main applications work -and are therefore invisible- while praise and thanks from the few privileged users getting the occasional grudging PC upgrade help that effort masquerade as substantive change. Meanwhile, of course, his obvious enthusiasm and commitment to user needs hides the fact that he risks nothing, does nothing, and achieves nothing.

A newer strategy, a variant on greenmail, works pretty well too. These CIOs get the job and disappear into their offices never to be heard from again until eventually senior management is forced into action, or the company changes hands, and they collect on their severance package before moving to the next target.

The most sophisticated strategy, however, is that of the absent genius. This CIO dispenses brilliant business and technical advice to all comers - except those in his own company. He speaks at conferences, creates coalitions, explores options, and sits on standards bodies while presenting private dreams as done deeds and blinding senior management in the glare of who he knows, and who he speaks of, to the fact that the systems organization is winding down behind him on auto pilot.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.