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Are CIOs losing their mojo?

Are CIOs losing their mojo?

A recent SIM International study finds that fewer CIOs are reporting directly to the CEO. Instead, they're answering to less strategic executives, such as the chief operating officer or chief financial officer

The tale of two CIOs

So what's behind the clashing numbers? The role of the CIO is changing, and where it ends up depends on a variety of factors, including the type of business an organization is in, the stability of its technology portfolio, and especially, the CIO's own traits and expertise.

"The role of the CIO is at a crossroad," Koeppel says. "CIOs are in a place where they can start to make choices between developing the business subject matter expertise, business understanding and leadership skills that really can position themselves as strategic partners with a voice and the seat at the table. Or the alternative, which is to increasingly become much more technical and operational, where the focus is much more about keeping the lights on and reducing expenses. Both are in play."

Koeppel and others say recent trends are tugging at CIOs to take on less business-changing, more operational roles, and it's a tug they need to resist. While the operational side of IT is important, it's not the end goal.

For example, consider a large corporation that has grown through mergers and acquisitions. As the constituent companies -- each with their own CIO -- merge, the former CIOs find themselves reporting to line-of-business executives vs. the main CEO, a situation that could help explain away the SIM data point.

Plus, "large companies that have grown through acquisition tend to have multiple applications for the same business process or proliferation of data centers that have not yet been consolidated," Koeppel says. "For these firms, integration is always an immediate priority. But once the acquisition is done, very often the integration is not completed. And this leaves behind a multiplicity of platforms which then become that much more difficult and expensive to maintain. In those environments, the tendency is very much to spend the dollars on business as usual, keeping the lights on and saving money on IT every year." And that can sap a CIO's time and influence level.

CIOs feel similarly pulled by regulatory requirements, another factor that could be affecting their reporting level. "The CEO may sense that the CIO really needs to have a closer relationship, for example, to either the CFO or COO, especially as they go through the Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and other regulatory changes," SIM's Lofton says.

Because such initiatives become a drain on IT time and budget, the CIO eventually gets very good at handling audits, but less adept at big picture IT innovation.

Another tug is the pull of outsourcing, automation and new tools such as managed services and software-as-a-service. In the end, the IT environment that makes smart use of these tools will become more stable, cost-effective and easy to maintain.

"At that point, problems can crop up," says Josh Hinkle, manager of network management and security at the American Heart Association. "When IT is focused on what we can do to manage our networks or our servers better, there's a plus to that. We can provide better uptime and so on. But sometimes people get too much in that mode. It becomes more about making less work for us and not so much about serving the business, which is really where they should be focused. That's a copout to the job."

And it all depends on how the organization views IT, says Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of Thinkstrategies, an IT consultancy. "If the organization views IT simply as a utility that's best valued if it doesn't create a disruption, then the CIO may be at risk as the systems become more stable and it may be seen as a more mundane responsibility under those circumstances."

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