C-Suite Best Practices

How We Got the Question Wrong: Does the CIO Need to Report to the CEO?

For years now, we have debated to whom the CIO should report. The options are few, but it doesn’t matter. The question was wrong. Fix the question, and the answer is obvious.

Scott Smeester


March 11, 2021

Photo credit:
Jon Tyson
“Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong.”
- Kathryn Schulz

I advocate for CIOs and technology leaders. I support CEOs and stakeholders, but there is a reason I lead an organization called CIO Mastermind.

By advocate, I don’t mean I have warm and fuzzy feelings that I share. I fight. I’m a regular rock ‘em sock ‘em robot.

For some years, the question for debate has been, “Does the CIO need to report to the CEO?” Answers were one of three: Yes, No, and It Depends. Articles, surveys, studies - each answer has its supportive documentation and respected warriors. I always said, “Yes.”

It turns out, it’s the wrong question.


Not long ago, 2021 came into the world and, proportionately, we are already sending it off to high school; the years grow up fast, don’t they. When the year dawned, your CEO had some major concerns. I’m sure they still linger. Scan the reports, and they essentially fall into these categories:

  • Remote work productivity
  • Team cohesion and conflict resolution
  • Uncertainty
  • Collaboration
  • Talent acquisition, retention and optimization
  • Churn: external and internal
  • Digital development
  • Data-driven execution
  • Retargeting existing customer/client base
  • Security


CIO Mastermind is the place where C-Suite technology leaders find insight and peer advice so that they can be the leader of their dreams. I talk to a lot of them; we coach a number of them. Here is what they are really good at (or we make them good at):

  1. They live or die by securing the business.
  2. They connect technology capability to business strategy.
  3. They design technology and drive technology with the customer/user in mind.
  4. They are champions of collaboration because they had to be, are now invited to be, and definitely want to be.
  5. They eat data for breakfast. Data is the answer to uncertainty.
  6. They lead the way in remote work, and drive the solutions that facilitate cohesion.
  7. They reverse churn. They have the data and technology to improve user experience to re-target existing customers for upsells and cross-sells; they have the ability to shape culture and to foster greater communication that produces happier and healthier workforces.

It seems to me, and again, I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, that what the CIO role has become answers Every. Single. Concern of the CEO coming into 2021.

Good news, CEO. Part of your amazing C-Suite team is a leader whose own team is devoted to the very things you may be losing sleep over.

Which leads me back to how we got the question wrong. The question is not, “Does the CIO need to report to the CEO?”

The right question is: “Does the CEO need the CIO to report to her/him?”


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