CIO Today, CEO Tomorrow?

As technology is increasingly becoming a strategic part of corporate life, CIOs are becoming core members of executive teams, and chances are they could soon end up at the very top of the enterprise hierarchy, according to Michael Earl, professor of information management at London Business School.

Corporate executive teams increasingly embrace CIOs as “one of us”, making the CIO a member of a company’s board or executive committee. The position may well prove to be the training ground for “a new economy CEO or COO”, Earl said in a keynote speech at market research company International Data Corp.’s (IDC’s) European IT Management Forum, held in Barcelona in March.


The days when a CIO’s only duty was to run the IT department are gone. The “new CIO” is expected to serve double duty as both a technology and a business executive, in addition to also having excellent personal communication skills, being good at facilitating and managing change as well as understanding both business functions and processes, to name but a few of the long list of skills that, according to Earl, contribute to creating a top CIO today.

Citing the findings of a recent survey of 78 CIOs throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, Earl said that despite the seemingly staggering range of skill requirements, the changes in the CIO’s role are still viewed in a very positive light by most CIOs.

Indeed, CIOs as a group are much more positive in their outlook, and the difference from 10 years ago, when Earl conducted a similar study, is quite startling, he said. Then, the frustration level among technology executives ran so high that a group of CIOs best could be described as “a depression of CIOs”, he said.

Today, the mood among CIOs has changed to the degree that if one gathered a group of them in one place, such a congregation could well be termed “a confidence of CIOs,” quipped Earl.

In his presentation, Earl tried to illustrate just how fast the CIO job description is evolving. In late 1998, according to Earl, a CEO’s wish list for a CIO would have been something like “a CIO who can keep the network running, keep the costs down, get us through Y2K and talk a language I understand.”

A year later, this would have changed to “a CIO who is good at strategy, knows new technologies and can help us understand e-commerce and make the transition to the new economy.”


By now, the second quarter of 2000, a hot Internet start-up would be looking for “a CIO or CTO who can build a robust and scalable IT infrastructure and who can help us in our continuous program of innovation enabled by information and new technologies,” Earl said.

For CIOs who can fit that bill, the good news is that the ever-broadening skill set requirements often also come with a commensurate compensation package, Earl noted.

When a headhunter company recently contacted him looking for a top-quality CIO, who in addition to having both top-grade business and technology acumen was also expected to be fluent in Japanese, the signing fee alone was in the US$1 million to US$2 million range.