CIOs Uncensored: The CIO Is Dead; Long Live The CIO - InformationWeek
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John Soat
John Soat

CIOs Uncensored: The CIO Is Dead; Long Live The CIO

There's a perfect storm of factors bearing down on CIOs, but they can weather it.

Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research, isn't one to pull his punches. "The CIO is dead," he says. When I ask him to tell me how he really feels about the CIO position, he adds, laughing, "Hedging doesn't get you anywhere these days."

Never having met an overused metaphor he didn't like, Campbell, whose company specializes in analyzing the return on investment of technology projects and purchases, says there's "a perfect storm" of factors swirling around the CIO position that could (will) lead to the diminishment of the role in terms of corporate impact and responsibility. Let's review.

More CIOs are reporting to CFOs these days, fewer to CEOs. That's according to the Society for Information Management's most recent survey. Campbell points out that, while you can find plenty of CIOs who used to report to the CEO and now report to the CFO, you can't find many in the reverse circumstances. "The job is being brought down, not up," he says.

Significant technology decisions, including purchasing decisions, are being handled by line-of-business managers. That migration of technology responsibility is reflected in shrinking IT budgets, which no longer include business-unit technology purchases that these days tend toward important applications like CRM software. "The IT budget is less and less allocated for those items," he says.

The technology areas increasingly allocated to CIOs tend not to be the most important to the organization. "The person who keeps the e-mail running is not [at] a C-level job anymore," he says.

Those are the elements that make up Campbell's CIO storm front. I'd like to add a couple of my own. And while I agree that the CIO position is being buffeted by the winds of change, I'd suggest that it will survive and emerge stronger for having braved such adversity. Here are my elements.

People in business are more tech savvy than ever before, and the proliferation of responsibility mentioned above will spread horizontally as more end users take control of their computing platforms, including laptops, applications, and mobile devices. The Wall Street Journal had an interview last week with the CIO of Google, Douglas Merrill, who spoke to this point. "Google's model is choice," he said. Take the hint: That's the model of the future.

The weakening economy will force CIOs to decide between the nice-to-have projects and the must-haves (see "The Big Chill"). This process will test their business acumen, as they're called on to make forward-looking investments. "There are myriad things you can do in IT," says Joe Buser, VP of information services at Delta Faucet, who's already had to "back burner" a couple of pet projects. The trick comes in balancing between those things that help run the business and those that create business. And hedging won't get you anywhere these days.

Last time there was such a confluence of factors threatening CIOs was the dot-com bust and recession earlier this century. Take the hint: Business is the priority, especially during a storm.

Sensing clouds overhead, from the economy, organizational pressures, or tech-savvy end users? Share your thoughts at our blog, CIOs Uncensored.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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