CIOs under threat from new challengers

Fresh in the Top Five of headaches for chief information officers (CIOs) after “How do I spend my information technology (IT) budget wisely?” is “How long will I keep my job?” according to analysts at Gartner Group Inc.

“We used to see CIOs move and pop up somewhere else in a similar position. Nowadays you see them move in greater numbers, but you don’t not necessarily see them resurface (as CIOs),” said Helen Mumford, Gartner’s general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), in an interview last week. Mumford, once a CIO herself, closely monitors the profession.

The job worries – now at spot number four – used to rank much lower, she said.

“Technology is so central to businesses, it is time for CIOs to stand up and be counted. The good ones will be central, and have a great deal of value to offer to their organization. Those who offer less value should be afraid, very afraid,” Mumford said.

Once CIOs formed a closed club of people playing musical chairs. They swapped jobs every now and then, Mumford explained. This landscape has changed. Fresh blood is coming in and other executives have learned how to judge a CIO, as the language of IT has become better known across the executive lineup.

A CIO’s biggest concern is his relationship with the company’s board. “There is a lot of pain around there,” Mumford said.

The pain is due to the inability of old-style CIOs to communicate their role in a nontechnical manner to the board. Selling the work of the IT department in business, not technology, terms is key.

“More CIOs are ex-sales directors from vendor companies. They’re now CIO because they are good at communicating, strong at marketing what the IT department does,” said Mumford. “Ten years ago the CIO only had to communicate with IT people. Now you have to be able to communicate with everybody.”

Last year 24 per cent of CIOs switched jobs, according to a recent Gartner survey. In 66 per cent of the cases the person had to drop the CIO title. In most cases he stayed at the same company, but took on either a different IT role or started work outside the IT department. In the other cases, the CIO left the company to either retire, rest between jobs, or become a consultant, according to Gartner. Only 21 per cent of the CIOs that switched jobs took on the same position elsewhere.

The majority of the job changes (67 per cent) were due to a merger, a company reorganization, or downsizing. Other causes are resignation by the CIO (16 per cent), retirement (five per cent), and unknown (12 per cent).