by Martha Heller

When the Business Is IT

Sep 23, 2009

The advantages of life as an IT industry CIO

Despite the fact that a CIO’s responsibilities are easily as wide and deep as any other executive’s, we at CIO magazine are always urging CIOs to do more. Grab product development, take over a P&L, run a non-IT part of the business. Why the CIO role itself seems never to be enough is the subject of a future column. Here, I would like to address whether some sectors—like IT products and services—offer a better pathway to these “extra CIO” areas than others. Do CIOs who work for IT companies have more opportunities for influence and impact than CIOs who work for companies that sell soap? I spoke to three CIOs in the IT industry to find out.

Customer/Industry Exposure

Mark Settle’s résumé includes CIO roles at Arrow Electronics and Corporate Express. Now at BMC Software, an enterprise management software provider, Settle does see a difference. “The goal of the IT organization in any company is to make the end-customer happy, but customer needs often get translated back to IT through a convoluted series of functional groups,” says Settle. “Because the sales group at BMC views the IT organization as a great case study of what our products can do, as CIO, I have more exposure to our customers and a better understanding of the sales cycle than I would in another industry.”

An executive is only as good as his or her networks, and the more internally focused the CIO is, the harder it can be to keep those networks fresh. “As CIO of an IT company, I feel like I am back in graduate school getting another degree in technology,” Settle says. “BMC’s marketing group wants us to demonstrate that technology expertise to our customer base, so I am sent pretty frequently to industry conferences to give presentations on business and technology. This has been a tremendous opportunity to network with other CIOs.”

Impact on Business Strategy

Having had CIO roles at Rational Software and Getronics and now at IT services provider CompuCom, John Douglas has considerable experience running IT for IT companies. “The IT organization at CompuCom is deeply involved in the company’s go-to-market strategy,” he says. “We sit down with our clients and solution directors and play a critical role in major services decisions like how best to implement the Information Technology Infrastructure Library v3 for change management and how to design our portal.” With IT playing such a direct role in CompuCom’s services strategy, there are fewer opportunities for misalignment between business and IT than in other industries.

Research and Development

With the IT group delivering the very same services to its clients that it uses internally, Douglas’s organization operates as a mini R&D group in many cases. “We’re implementing a new integrated information management tool and putting a lot of the new functionality into CompuCom first,” he says. “We’re gaining some expertise around the new tool before bringing it out to a client.”

Profit-and-Loss Responsibility

In addition to providing IT services to his internal and external customers, Dave McCue, CIO of CSC, a business and technology solutions provider, is also the P&L leader of the CSC account, which he describes as “an 800-pound gorilla customer” for the large global outsourcer. Not only does this dual role—as both customer and account manager—secure him an unquestioned seat at the table, but it is also a boon for talent development. “The account-leveraged model means that many of the people who work in the IT organization are also servicing other accounts, so they are taking the expertise they gained externally and bringing it right back into my organization.”

Business Development

Until there is a market demand for digital soap, it will be challenging for a soap company’s CIO to identify and develop major revenue opportunities for his or her company. At an IT company, however, the CIO is much closer to the revenue stream and is well positioned for this role. “Because CSC is an IT services provider, I believe it is much easier for me to work hand-in-hand with the business,” says McCue. “For example, I identified what wound up being a major new market opportunity for CSC. From my vantage point as CIO, I was able to drive it through all of the processes and bring it to market.”

McCue, Settle and Douglas all realize that the role of IT industry CIOs also bring a unique set of challenges, like being responsible for R&D in addition to a full slate of IT projects. As Douglas puts it, “Like the shoemaker’s children, our clients come first, so we need to manage our resources with that in mind.” But with product strategy influence, built-in alignment, team exposure to the cutting edge of technology and a direct line to the company’s revenue stream, the IT leader role can be a major catalyst in a CIO’s career.

Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG Partners, an executive recruiting firm. Reach her at or read her column at