Panel: CIOs face greater scrutiny

Globalization, greater access to a broader range of IT service providers and an even stricter alignment between business and IT are among the key factors that will impact CIOs and corporate IT departments in the next five years, according to a panel of three Chicago-area CIOs. The IT executives will be discussing these issues in depth during an open forum at the Nov. 12 Society for Information Management Executive Summit in Chicago.

Cathy Brune, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Allstate Insurance Co.; Frank Modruson, CIO at Accenture Ltd.; and Bill Haser, vice president and CIO at Tenneco Automotive, agreed during a preconference roundtable discussion that now more than ever, top IT executives are being more closely scrutinized. And so is the value that IT contributes to a company’s bottom line.

“The reason we feel so scrutinized is because it’s so easy for the business to look at us and see a very big spend,” said Brune, referring to large companies’ multimillion-dollar IT budgets. “But I personally like the scrutiny, because it makes me get more focused and forces the business to get more focused on IT also.”

For example, were it not for the extra attention business executives, including chief financial officers and CEOs, are now paying to IT, Brune said, she doubts she could have restructured the company’s IT organization as quickly as she did, instituting a new governance model. “The model pairs business and technology people to make the big decisions,” Brune said. “Now (the business side is) willing to sit with us and they’re willing to be the gatekeepers throughout the organization.”

IT isn’t the only corporate function being more closely watched. In some cases, IT is helping to scrutinize a company’s overall operations and financial records.

At Lake Forest, Ill.-based Tenneco, for example, “IT is being leaned on by finance to help in the compliance of Sarbanes-Oxley reporting,” said Haser. “We now have a regular approach, where we’re going through controlled reviews to make sure where we need to follow up. We’ve also provided assistance to capture all of the documents you need to have accessible under Sarbanes-Oxley.

On the technology and services acquisition front, all three CIOs said they see a greater reliance on world markets. It allows businesses “to make sure that work gets done on the most cost-effective basis,” said Modruson. “Being a global firm, we have a centralized IT function that provides IT, but we source it around the world because our customers are around the world.”

Brune said she views worldwide IT sourcing as an inevitability that is already under way at Allstate, which has set up an IT organization in Ireland. “You just have more alternatives, more cost-effective alternatives,” she said.

Because CIOs are increasingly buying goods and services from a greater range of suppliers, “vendor relationship management is a key talent I want to make sure I have in place,” added Haser.