Business & Finance
07:35 AM

CIOs Gain Influence And Responsibility

Despite recent evidence that they were losing ground in the executive suite, Optimize Research finds tech chiefs leading the way in innovation.

Spread the word: The latest research shows CIOs are finally earning recognition as indispensable business visionar- ies. Their role in shaping business strategy marks a notable shift in responsibilities that's literally redefining what a CIO is. This finding, in the most recent Optimize magazine survey of 575 senior business and technology professionals, comes as InformationWeek's own research finds that some CIOs are in danger of ending up in diminished roles.

CIOs increasingly are being counted on to help business leaders--from CXOs to line-of-business managers--make their companies more agile and customer-centric, the Optimize survey found. Contributing to this trend is trust in technology and the IT department to transform the business. Other critical factors include a CEO who "gets it," a CIO with the well-rounded skills to be a trusted business leader, and a CIO who spends a good deal of time communicating with constituents, both internal and external customers.

Despite these encouraging developments, the survey also shows that companies and their CIOs still continue to focus a fair amount of their attention on how to migrate away from maintenance IT and into innovation IT.

InformationWeek Research earlier this year came to a similar conclusion: that after years of enjoying rising influence in their companies, some CIOs are finding themselves in danger of getting mired in cost cutting and systems maintenance. It's a career-threatening turn that progressive business technology execs are doing their best to steer through.

About a year ago, a debate began over the true value of IT, much of it fed by questions about forced platform or application upgrades, uncertainty over the maintenance of legacy technologies, and the ROI for some enterprise applications. Meanwhile, more commoditized or simplified approaches to technology delivery and maintenance were gaining ground--such as software as a service, open source technologies, and outsourcing. At the center of the debate, a klieg light was shining on the office of the CIO, and some business leaders started questioning the value of the role.

How Involved Is Your CIO In Business Decisions?, piechartNo one believed the CIO had reached the point of obsolescence. But some questioned whether the IT chief truly belonged in top-level business conversations about managing the company. In Optimize's surveys over the past five years, we saw an uptick in the number of CIOs reporting to CFOs--a sign that perhaps IT was being viewed as a cost center.

But while some observers continue to talk about a decline in CIO influence, Optimize's research kept indicating that their influence hasn't declined over the past 12 months. In fact, the opposite is occurring.

Shaun Coyne, VP and CIO at Toyota Financial Services, says the evolution of the role is being driven by a tighter interaction between CIOs and business managers. End users have become "a lot more empowered with technology," Coyne says, and are "more aware of how technology can be used as a strategic asset."

Perception is also catching up to reality in a positive way, Coyne says: As more CIOs take on business tasks, the rest of the organization is benefiting from that influence. "A lot of the responsibility now involves putting automated tools in the data center to take complexity out, so the role has definitely changed from one of taking costs out of the data center and now providing strategic advantage to the business," he says.

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Just 6% of the business and tech pros Optimize surveyed see the influence of the CIO in their own company on the decline. Among the rest, 56% see CIO influence on the rise. What's more, 78% think the CIO will become much more of a business leader in the near term. As that happens, they say, CIOs will solicit the help of others in their sphere of influence to take on some of the more technical duties, though the vast majority say the CIO will still be the focal point for major technology decisions, vendor brand choice, and project management.

The increase in CIO influence doesn't surprise Tony Scott, CIO at Walt Disney. "I certainly see the role expanding, both for myself and across the industry," Scott says. "Everything [in IT] is inextricably linked with the center of business."

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