CIOs Uncensored: Death Of CIO Greatly Exaggerated - InformationWeek

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John Soat
John Soat

CIOs Uncensored: Death Of CIO Greatly Exaggerated

Readers react to rumors of a fatality at the top of IT.

Last week's column about a consultant's hyperbolic claim that "The CIO is dead" drew a great deal of feedback, both online and in e-mail. Most respondents believed that the death of the CIO is an exaggeration, though many pointed out that it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy if CIOs don't help themselves.

For one thing, they must elevate above the level of technology managers to true business executives. "CIOs bear responsibility to step out of their comfort zones and lend more to the value propositions their companies offer," wrote one commentator. Another put it more succinctly: "If the CIO doesn't understand business value, he/she will fail."

Several commentators equated the evolving role of the CIO with the uncertain economic climate and its potential impact on IT. "Bad times hurt cost centers worse than profit centers," wrote one. "Lean times are when the nonproductive people go away," added another.

Recession worries or no, there's a bottom line here, wrote one commentator, and it's the bottom line. "There is no such thing as an IT project any more; there are only business projects. CIOs need to find more ways to partner with business, speak their language, and find common goals, no matter what is happening with the economy. That's the only true path to a better future for CIOs and IT organizations."

However, technology expertise is still the CIO's trump card, according to at least one respondent. "One cannot deny the fact that economics and technological advancements have allowed management to take a second look at the cost benefit of a full-time CIO. There are reasons for this that tend to cloud the minds of management, one of which is thinking that technology has advanced to the level where it now 'maintains and manages' itself. As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth."

More than one person pointed to the necessity for the CIO to function in a cross-organizational role. "IT needs the ability to go across business units, and IT needs someone to look at the bigger picture and the synergies where things can be combined and handled for the greater good of everyone. ... This is where a CIO comes into the equation," said one. Said another: "CIOs must emphasize the role of bringing the right information to the right person at the right time. This is their business case."

One Machiavellian individual made his (sexist) case. "Today's CIO must be a ruthless corporate political animal. Often pitted against the CFO's agenda and numbers derived by the CFO, he better be," he wrote.

In contrast, the glass-half-full proposition was articulated by one person this way: "If the CIO position is relegated to pulling wires in a data center and keeping e-mail services alive, then the author of the 'CIO is dead' position is dead-on. But if the CEO has vision and understands the invaluable role that technology can play in driving margins, opening up new opportunities, and staving off competitors, there is no end in sight to the role of the CIO."

Big if, pointed out a commentator: "In order to have a CEO-CIO relationship that has the optimum positive impact on an organization, you must first have outstanding people in both positions, simultaneously -- a very rare combination."

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