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Not as a Stranger

Not as a Stranger

If you’re not already a member of your company’s executive team you need to find a way to get in the club. But remember: simply having a key card to the corner suite won’t necessarily make a CIO more effective

Last month, in Part 1 of CIO's exclusive State of the CIO survey, we looked at the overarching results of the feedback we received from 257 CIOs and senior IT executives. In Part 2, we explore CIOs' best - and worst - working relationships.

Former CIO of a state government utility Bob Wisdom (not his real name) came to know just what it feels like to keep banging your head against a brick wall during the time he spent working for an organisation ranking on the low-to-mid levels of the IT maturity scale.

Time and time again he voiced his frustration with a mind-set locked in a past where computers had no strategic role to play in business. But his success was limited, mainly because reporting directly to the head of business services as he did, his access to the CEO was filtered. The understanding of many of the executives and senior managers he dealt with on a regular basis regarding technology and technology issues was pretty low, and those people tended to take "quite a hostile view" of anyone who they considered to be encroaching on their territory.

When Wisdom got caught up in office politics, as CIOs everywhere inevitably do, he felt acutely the lack of the kind of working relationship with the CEO that might help mitigate a tense situation. "If you are not a direct report you never develop that working relationship to be able to use that referential authority," he says.

So reflecting his view that Australian management in general is significantly behind its US counterparts in its willingness to embrace and move ahead on IT, Wisdom is not even vaguely surprised by data from our State of the CIO survey showing only 28 per cent of Australian CIOs (compared to 51 per cent of their US counterparts) report to the CEO. [Editor's note: the number of US CIOs reporting to their CEO dropped slightly in US CIO's 2003 State of the CIO survey, from the aforementioned 51 per cent to 47 per cent, with the number of CIOs reporting to CFOs jumping significantly (from 11 per cent in 2002 to 22 per cent this year). This shift may well be an indicator of increasing belt-tightening in the US.]

Wisdom believes that when it became trendy in Australia five or six years ago for organisations to have a CIO, most Australian companies didn't do much more than change the IT manager's title. "Now that didn't make them a CIO," he says. "The real CIOs you will see sitting on executive [teams]. The ones who aren't real CIOs - who are really general managers IT or whatever - they will be the indirect reports, and the really behind companies are the ones that have them reporting to CFOs.

"There are two types of CIOs: what I call the real CIOs, and the rebadged IT managers," Wisdom says. "To properly do the job of a CIO you must report to the chief executive, because you've got to take a corporate-wide view over systems and information. You basically need the clout of that authority to be able to crash through all of the political barriers, defensiveness, and so on. It is utterly impossible if you are not a direct report."

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