The relationship between CEO and CIO when it comes to digital innovation.

CIOs and CEOs must work together to drive innovation.





When do you think of a quintessential CEO, what comes to mind?

The insolent brilliance of Steve Jobs? The exuberant vision of Richard Branson? The unflappable strength of Ursula Burns? Maybe it’s a combination of all three.

Apply the same thinking to a CIO, and I’m going to bet the portrait in your mind is quite different. More analytical and subdued, more egghead than rock star.

Odd couple jokes aside, the relationship between CIO and CEO is becoming strategically vital as more companies embrace digital business models. A global survey by ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab found that the most innovative companies tend to view innovation as a team sport that requires collaboration across the C-suite. However, CIOs and CEOs often don’t collaborate as effectively as they could.

Innovation on their mind

After years of tech-driven disruption, CEOs are rightly obsessed with digital innovation. They’re under constant pressure to keep their organizations growing while fending off an ever-growing roster of competitors. Unsurprisingly, their top priorities include building an innovation culture and using technology to create new business models, according to research from the Conference Board.

Even so, their innovation goals remain elusive. Relatively few companies in the ServiceNow/ESI survey have made significant progress toward their innovation goals. Only 15% qualified at the highest level as innovation leaders. Another 28% ranked as advanced. More than half of all firms in our survey ranked as beginners or intermediates.


CEOs seem to be fairly clear-eyed when it comes to the innovation maturation of their organizations. In fact, most feel as if they have a long way to go to be considered truly innovative.


Most CEOs believe their companies have a long way to go to be considered true innovators.

Here’s where the discrepancies in perception between CEO and CIO begin to surface.

Nine in 10 of CIOs surveyed believe they have a highly or extremely effective working relationship with the boss—yet fewer than half of CEOs concur. Why the disconnect?

In part, this stems from a lingering perception of IT as a cost center rather than a strategic function. As we see in the data below, there’s a gap between how innovative CIOs believe themselves to be and how innovative their bosses think they are.