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What's in a Title?

What's in a Title?

Column Eight in the Sydney Morning Herald recently spotlighted the phenomenon of nominative determinism. It had just discovered that a serious piece of research into incontinence had been undertaken by J W Splatt and D Weedon.

Column Eight argued this was further evidence that people pursued careers espoused by their surnames. It gave local Australian examples of this including Mr Gamble from the Sydney Casino, John West from Taronga Zoo's aquarium and Mr Skidmore, the NRMA car tester. What then would be nominative determinism for someone who was a CIO? Would they be called Mr Data or perhaps Ms Technocrat? Could it attract someone called Ms Insight or would this career be the natural domain of a Mr Business-System? I ask the question because I believe behind it is the overall issue of what should be the role of the CIO. When I first entered the IS industry in 1981 the head honcho in the IS department was called the "electronic data processing" manager. Now IDC's InTEP database reveals only 5 per cent of senior IS executives carry this moniker. The most popular title embraces some variation of "information technology manager" at 41 per cent.

I find it interesting that, despite the stress over the last five years on aligning IT to the business, this title is favoured ahead of variations around "information systems manager". These comprised 35 per cent of the database indicating there is still an emphasis on technology over business systems in the focus of the IS department. However, from my own anecdotal experience in running InTEP I see a strong emergence of a trend to label the head IS executive as the chief information officer, (CIO). While only 3 per cent of the database carry this title, this has grown rapidly over the last few years, no doubt fuelled in some part by the emergence of a magazine such as this.

However, is this trend a recognition that business now appreciates that the most important aspect of any technology investment is the information output from them? Or, does it reflect nothing more than an attempt by the heads of IS departments to justify pay rises? Certainly Computer Economics in its examination of the salary packages of senior IS executives in the US gave some support for this point. Call a person a CIO and they had, on average, around a 28 per cent higher base salary than someone carrying the nametag IS manager. [A finding also supported by CIO's annual salary survey (May 1998). -- Ed]This was one of the reasons the NSW State government decided to codify the duties of a CIO. At a recent InTEP session on this topic the speaker said the government saw that unless it defined this role it believed it would emerge by default as the title for the most senior IS executive. However, the government was increasingly concerned that there was too much focus on the operational management view of IT and too little focus on the strategic information generated by these investments. It wanted to change this culture. The policy was first published 12 months ago and is now available on the Web. It has led to some interesting developments within the State government. Its new CIOs now come from a diverse range of backgrounds including publishing, library management as well as some ex IT managers. Today their duties include all facets of information management including the library, records management and archives. They are also responsible for charting the future information needs of their organisation. The speaker acknowledged that not all IT managers were comfortable with these guidelines. Nevertheless, he believed that for those unable to make the transition there would still be a strong need for technical skill sets in the modern IS department. Furthermore, for those staff who aspired to senior management there was now a guide to the skill sets and attributes they needed to cultivate and develop to reach the elevated status of a CIO.

Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia

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