by CIO Staff

The CIO Role

Aug 23, 20042 mins

CIOs’ inferiority complex over their place in the senior executive hierarchy seems to be taking a turn for the better, according to comments gleaned here at the CIO 100 symposium. Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future [see “Opening Statements” earlier], kicked of the symposium saying the CIOs are “no longer the Rodney Dangerfield” of the corporate world.

CIOs report that they have the ear of the CEO and CFO. Sarbanes-Oxley is driving much of that, with senior managers understanding that to comply, their IT shops better be delivering. Also, news of serious security breaches and their affect on business also has CEOs and CFOs turning to the CIO for answers and protection.

Security has raised the profile, and therefore the position of the CIO at Tiffany & Co. Phil Alberta, group director of corporate services at the jeweler, said he has no problem getting the CEO’s attention and is treated as a peer among top executives.

CIOs believe that information will always matter, and for that reason their place in the corporation is assured. But to hold on to that high position, CIOs say that they must make themselves business solutions providers, seeking competitive advantage from IT. Once a CIO makes information a commodity, however, they are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

But not all is right. While CIOs have gained more respect, top executives still don’t fully get it. “There are no other XO’s who understand what you do,” Paul Saffo told CIOs this morning. “They think the things you do are magic.”

With the new respect comes the expectation from senior-level managers that CIOs should be more agile — that is, they’re expected to respond in real time. Saffo said agility combined with that quick response leads to another expectation: that the CIO has a deeper and deeper knowledge of the enterprise.

But that will be difficult. Saffo likened the twin expectations of fast response time and deeper enterprise knowledge to having two hobbies that require different focus. “That’s like bird watching and mushroom hunting; they don’t go together,” he said. “You’re looking down and then you’re looking up.” [For more on agility, see this year’s CIO 100 coverage on agility.]