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For The Love of IT

For The Love of IT

Stress, responsibility, misery, finger-pointing - why would anyone put themselves through the anguish of being a CIO? Because they love it, according to our recent survey.

As group information systems manager for Jeans West Corporation, Peter Johnson's role is evolving, and it is likely to continue to evolve at least over the next 12 to 24 months.

So while Johnson is still looking after IT, he now also has responsibility for the supply chain - purely a business-focused area - and expects to take on other business roles in the near future. Eventually he hopes his position will progress to where he becomes what he describes as a "retail operations director", charged with looking after all operational aspects of the business, including IT, the buying process and the logistics - everything from sourcing stock to getting it into stores.

Johnson has had exposure to all parts of the business as an IT specialist, but his background has been entirely in IT, so to prepare himself for that future role, he is getting as involved as he possibly can with the business. "At the end of the day, the IT part is delivering or is enabling the business functions to operate more effectively, so to do that I need to understand [the business] perhaps better than [business managers] do," Johnson says.

It is a trend that has been affecting growing numbers of CIOs, just as it is a position Johnson has been preparing himself for over a considerable period of time. Since taking on the CIO position two-and-a-half years ago, Johnson has worked hard at learning every aspect of Jeans West's business functions and has made a concerted effort to position himself as not so much an IT person as a business person who happens to look after IT. He enjoys his expanded new role, is thriving on the new responsibilities and would only be attracted to another job elsewhere if it gave him even more opportunity for influence than he currently enjoys.

That is a sentiment he shares with many if his peers. Results of CIO's 2002/03 State of the CIO survey show most Australian CIOs flourish on the work they are doing and have little desire to do anything else. Asked what role they would like next, 57 per cent of CIOs surveyed said they wanted another CIO position. Only 14 per cent would like to move up into a CEO role, and CIOs show little interest in doing much else: barely 7 per cent want to be COOs and just 3 per cent would happily take on the CFO position.

"I'm just having too much fun at the moment [to want to move into any other role]," says Nick Brant, head of IT with Virgin Blue Airlines. "It's like the good times on the merry-go-round - you're not sure you want to stop. I'm not really looking past this current position: it's a lot of fun, it's a lot of hard work and it's really rewarding. I want to stay here as long as I can."

James Huckerby, CIO at Panthers Entertainment Group, is just as keen. Asked what he would like his next role to be, Huckerby says: "I think I'd really want to get another CIO role. It's good work, and also you've got to stick with something for quite a while and get experience in different things." Anyway, he says, new career opportunities for CIOs are "completely dead at the moment" and he is worried about the trend for companies to revert to the old practice of appointing someone from the finance department to the CIO role.

Huckerby says it is a general trend that bothers him considerably, because while it might look good on paper for companies to appoint people out of finance to the CIO role, he seriously doubts those companies get value out of such decisions. "I guess it's just a reflection of a bearish economy," he says. "The person in the finance department takes control of everything and the CEO comes from finance and the CIO comes from finance. Then when money loosens up they say: 'Hang on, this CIO has no idea about technology strategy at all, he just knows how to cut costs.'"

In the short term such "shuffling of the deckchairs" among CIOs will likely continue, according to Ken Owiti, associate director for technology with Hamilton James & Bruce, as organisations persist with scrutiny of their IT investment and question the return on those investments. But Owiti says at least organisations have become mature enough not to try to lay all the blame on the hapless CIO.

"It will be more like they realise that if their CIO is not effective, there are others that can bring business and technology together, and it is not just a technology matter," Owiti says. "I think the reason is that there is still a viewpoint that a lot of the technology investments that were made in the late 1990s did not really bring results, but I think the businesses are beginning to realise that those results were not necessarily hinging on the CIOs themselves - it's an entire issue of the business."

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