by Edward Prewitt

The State of the CIO

Mar 01, 20024 mins

The 2002 state of the cio special report describes a job role in transition. Our exclusive assessment finds that the CIO position has changed greatly in recent years. CIOs have largely shed their second-class status, finally partnering with their CEO on the strategic use of IT. CIOs’ job skills match those of other executives: effective communication, strategic thinking and planning, and good comprehension of business processes and operations. And yet, for all that CIOs have achieved, they still have a long way to go, as the above paradoxes show.

We surveyed 500 randomly selected CIOs and equivalent heads of IT to compile “The State of the CIO” survey, the cornerstone of this special report. We followed up with one-on-one interviews with more than 50 CIOs to explicate the survey findings and identify action items. (See the “To Do: 2002” lists throughout this issue for take-aways from the research.) The result is a comprehensive, statistically valid portrayal of the CIO role today that is both broad and deep.

The 2002 State of the CIO special report assesses the role in several fundamental categories: career paths to the CIO spot, reporting relationships, salaries, job responsibilities, IT spending priorities, job skills, current challenges, job turnover and the future of the role.

Some of our conclusions challenge conventional wisdom. For example, much has been made of CIOs’ alleged affinity for job-hopping and their yearning for the CEO suite. Our survey finds that neither is true. Instead, CIOs tend to remain with an employer for three to six years, on average?well beyond the 18- to 24-month figure often bandied about. CIOs also like being in IT, as it turns out; 44 percent say they want to make their next career move to another CIO spot, versus 20 percent who are aiming for the top job.

Another surprise: Despite the recession, CIOs say they are continuing to spend money. And not just on integrating existing systems, although that was the top priority named. The number-two spending priority in the survey was new technologies such as wireless applications. In interviews, CIOs said they’ve raised the bar on ROI?but if there is a payback, then there is the means to make the project happen.

CIOs’ climb from the wiring closet to the boardroom has been slow and, at times, painful. But our survey shows that CIOs are now near the top rung of the corporate ladder. They have partnered with their CEO and other executive peers. The majority of CIOs report to their CEO (as they’ve long argued they should) and have forged strong working relationships with other executives such as finance and operations chiefs. The responsibilities and challenges of CIOs parallel those facing other executives, as do the skills they need to hone to succeed at their job. CIOs are appraised and paid on the basis of corporate performance and their leadership?just like other executives. When CIOs list the barriers to effectiveness, “disconnect with executive peers” is a nonissue.

Ironically, the greatest barrier to effectiveness for most CIOs might instead be of their own making. One of the top challenges CIOs said they face today is a lack of time for strategic thinking. Yet 74 percent of CIOs admit they don’t delegate.

And what about that pay gap? CIOs may act like executives, talk like executives and work like executives, but they are far from being paid like executives. CEOs, COOs and CFOs make a lot more money than CIOs do.

And are CIOs too satisfied with IT? Now that the CIO role properly belongs in the executive branch, it would seem to be good training for the top company spot. And indeed, that’s the case, especially in high-tech companies, say the prognosticators in our feature article on the future role of CIOs. Yet for now, IT is where the action is (if not the money). As Patricia Morrison, CIO of Office Depot, puts it, “I love being a CIO. I love the pace of change, the opportunity to work across so many avenues of the business?the capability of bridging business and technology. I have had the opportunity to leave, but I always come back to IT.” That’s a succinct statement of the state of the CIO in 2002.