No matter how rotten things are at work, or how des-perate you are to tell your boss to stick his CIO job "way up where the sun don't shine", it's probably best to bite your tongue and keep your high horse bolted firmly in its stable. Because IT analysts and executive recruiters alike are warning that with IT deep in the doldrums, unless you fancy - and can afford - a longish holiday, now is not the time to jump ship.
Recruiters paint an almost uniformly grim picture. Some very good CIOs have been retrenched - deemed too expensive in the current buyer's market. Other fine CIOs have been looking for work since quitting their jobs half a year ago. Salaries are stagnating or even dropping, and many companies have stopped using executive recruiters, no longer prepared to pay their fees.
"This last year has been a great eye opener to some CIOs inasmuch as there are some people now who are unemployed who - there's no doubt about it - are excellent candidates," says Frank Soros, managing director of Ab Initio Executive Search. "I think a lot of people are amazed how long some of these good candidates are out in the street. It's just a lack of availability of jobs."
Julie Perigo, the partner running the convergent technology practice for TMP Worldwide Executive Search, agrees. "It's just a very, very poor market out there," she says. "It's a buyer's market. There are a lot of very good CIO types who've been retrenched because they were considered too expensive, and it's not an easy time if you want to move. If you're in a good position, I'd say sit tight probably until the end of the year because there's just not an awful lot around."
Things must be bad - the old joke about CIO standing for Career-Is-Over is even creeping back into the vernacular. Worse, some CIO positions are over for the time being too, with their organisations responding to the perceived need to slash costs by going exactly the way their CIO - if they still had one - would warn them against: moving away from a strategic focus on IT towards a purely utilitarian view.
"We've seen organisations that have effectively, in tightening their budget, just decided to take out perhaps some of the strategy roles for a while and focus back on just managing and maintaining a tight IT shop," says business adviser and CIO advocate Jason Beasley-Hahn. (Beasley-Hahn was previously Asia Pacific manager of Gartner Executive Programs.) "So you might have a CTO role that still exists, but the CIO strategy role has largely been dropped through merger and acquisitions or divesting of companies. And most of the CIOs are staying in place. Those that perhaps have moved around a little bit before have decided to stay in place, which means that the openings themselves just aren't as prevalent," he says.
After all the hard work IT executives, the industry and the press have put in over recent times trying to get the message about IT and IT governance across to computer-illiterate CEOs and boards, it seems inconceivable that companies could be getting rid of their CIOs. Sadly, Supreme Executive managing director David Croft can confirm the trend. In the wake of the huge shakeout in the IT and telecommunications industries over the past 18 months, Croft has dealt with a number of companies that have opted to ditch their CIO or IT director and leave an IT manager in charge. Others, better informed perhaps, are getting rid of the IT managers instead, and retaining the top position.
Croft says he has just worked with one multinational company that was looking for a local area IT manager until Croft helped it recognise its real need was for an IT director for Asia Pacific and Japan. He knows of other organisations that are cutting back and reducing the dollars spent on IT wherever possible, starting at the top with questions about whether they really need a director as long as there's an IT manager on board, and searching for ways to spread the IT responsibilities around.
"I have no idea why they are doing it," he says. "I am a little bit dumbfounded as to why people are moving in certain directions. At one stage most of the major corporations would have had somebody at board level [doing IT] but there are some organisations that are going back and not worrying about the board level."
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