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The Odyssey: Sit-Downs With CIOs Yield Insights

Bruce Rogow is on a mission.

Rogow, a 58-year-old IT consultant, is on a decade-long intellectual and professional quest--he calls it "The Odyssey"--in which he's crisscrossing the United States and interviewing CIOs and other IT experts, 120 of them since last July. Rogow, principal of Vivaldi Odyssey and Advisory and a former research director and executive fellow at Gartner, has a list of about 225 CIOs and plans to interview about 100 CIOs each year, about half of them ones he hadn't sat down with in the past. There's no cold calling: He'll interview only those CIOs referred by other business technologists. The interviews, on average, last an hour or two.

What is he finding out? In an article in the current issue of InformationWeek's sister publication, Optimize ("IT's Fiscal Squeeze,"), Rogow writes that many companies seem to be heading into a budget-leveling period during which they balance cost reduction with new initiatives. To cut costs and drive efficiencies, Rogow says, companies tighten outsourcing, renegotiate telecommunications contracts, implement new stages of asset-portfolio management, conduct further consolidation of servers, and, in some instances, employ offshore contractors. This frees up money for forward-looking technologies: wireless pilots, radio-frequency identification, and self-service applications, as well as sales-channel programs and other new IT initiatives.

Asked if anything surprises him about his interviews with CIOs, Rogow responds that the CIOs rarely, if ever, talk about breakthrough technologies. "Virtually every CIO says, 'We don't need another technology or vendor to throw products at us.'" Instead, what these CIOs tell Rogow is that they seek the best ways to align the technologies they already have in place with their companies' business goals.

"IT is woven into the fabric of business," Rogow says, "and it's an extremely difficult thing to manage." In the past, companies "put in" IT systems; today, "you've got to weave it into" the business process. And CIOs tell him they must do this with smaller budgets, as CEOs and CFOs look to slash IT spending. (For more on CIOs' budget strategies, see "Reining In IT Budgets".)

Most CIOs are aware of the challenge. "Whether their bosses realize it or not, CIOs feel they play a crucial role," Rogow says. Crucial, but not necessarily indispensable. "They're being more realistic on how fragile that role can be."

Illustration by Marc Rosenthal

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