The State of the CIO 2008: The CIO's Time to Shine

The value CIOs can bring to the enterprise is limited only by their energy and imagination...and sometimes by organizations that just don't get it.

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Mon, December 10, 2007

CIO — For some CIOs, there's no separation between IT and business.

For others, a gulf, wide and deep, undercuts their ability to do, or even define, their jobs.

In our seventh annual "State of the CIO" survey, you told us about the problems you face in this turbulent world of new technologies and tight budgets, a world in which the role of the CIO is reconsidered, reevaluated and reimagined almost on a daily basis.

Some of our 558 respondents, all heads of IT in their enterprises, are faring quite well. They're bringing creativity and new revenues to their businesses, and they're being rewarded with new responsibilities in operations, for example, or customer service.

Others are finding this new world difficult to navigate.

But before we can talk about challenge and change—constants, it seems, in the CIO's universe—and about what forms they've taken this year and will take in the year ahead, we first have to cut through some static.

The language often used to frame the CIO experience does little to reveal the nature of the CIO's work. Today's IT lexicon—which bandies terms such as "innovation" and "alignment" and "ROI"—disguises the reality of being a CIO and hides the obstacles and opportunities that await the practitioners of the IT art and discipline.

"Henderson, we need to innovate right now to achieve alignment."

"That's right, Bartow. And after that, we'll generate a positive ROI for our stakeholders."

Hold on. Nobody talks like that and that's not what you do all day.

Metaphors, which breed buzzwords, attempt to explain one idea by substituting another; for example, "innovation" replaces "make money." But these substitutions frequently obfuscate. And CIOs don't have time for that. CIOs excel at thinking about what's possible. And doable.

So let's talk about what's real.

Stop Talking About Alignment

We can't imagine a CIO who doesn't know that technology must support the business's processes and goals. If you don't understand that, nothing in this survey will help you. In our 2008 "State of the CIO" survey, 82 percent of respondents said that aligning IT and business was their number-one activity. Of course it was. Does a therapist listen? Does a general command?

It's clear, however, that CIOs who worry about alignment conceive of themselves, their function and their department as a thing apart. Whether that's a problem of their own making or a dysfunction generated by their executive peers and their enterprise's culture, these CIOs have already lost. As Roger Parks, VP of information technology and CIO at J.R. Simplot , a $4.2 billion agribusiness, puts it, "If other senior executives don't see you as one of them, you usually can't change their minds. You have to realize that."

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