The CIO role ranges beyond IT

Just what does “CIO” stand for? Increasingly, the answer goes beyond IT, according to a newly released survey by the Meta Group Inc. consultancy.

Out of 113 respondents, most of whom worked at large organizations in the United States, 42 per cent said their job scope includes business functions that range from facilities to HR.

A learning curve is in evidence, since only 26 per cent of the CIOs in the survey had a primary background in business. The majority, 74 per cent, came up through IT.

But according to our “State of the CIO 2004” survey, many CIOs whose primary background is in IT have nonetheless held jobs in business fields. In that study, 70 per cent of the 544 respondents said their primary experience was in IT, but 45 per cent said they had worked in business operations, 34 per cent in administration, 24 per cent in finance or accounting, and 21 per cent in sales.

In the Meta Group survey, 29 per cent of CIOs went on to say that their job descriptions entailed leading or supporting business transformation. CD Hobbs, a senior vice-president with Meta’s Executive Directions group, which conducted the survey, describes business transformation as “an executive’s ability to impact work routines by changing the business processes that define how work is done.” CIOs are ideally suited for business transformation efforts because of their end-to-end view of operations and process, Hobbs says.

CIOs in the survey were split on the reasons for the push for business transformation. The top driver was adaptivity to business change, cited by a third of the respondents. Process improvement was cited by 26 per cent and cost control by 22 per cent.

Business transformation is, by definition, a future state of affairs. In the here and now, the value of IT remains a matter of how low CIOs can go. Cost containment and management was by far the leading driver of IT’s fiscal value, cited by 70 per cent of CIOs in Meta’s survey. This finding echoes “The State of the CIO 2004” survey, which found that lowered operating costs was the top impact of IT and would continue to be so through 2005, at the least.

“There’s no reason to expect (cost pressures) to change,” says Hobbs. “A lot of business transformation in IT organizations isn’t measurable in budgets.”

It’s a familiar conundrum for CIOs: how to fulfill an expanding scope of responsibility while under the same old constraints.

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