It used to be enough for CIOs to know how to talk with and advise fellow CXOs from finance, facilities management, sales and human resources.
Now, according to new research, that whole notion is just so-o-o quaint. Instead, it seems, a lot of mid-market CIOs — at least in the US — are being expected to become finance, FM, sales and/or human resource managers in their spare time, just to supplement their IT responsibilities. You'd almost think some CEOs, not really knowing exactly what IT does, have concluded it does so little of anything their CIOs can easily do more. Not so. In fact, it's a sign that IT may finally be coming of age, and there are plenty of people who think this is extremely good news.
In most other professions, getting really, really good at what you do is a guarantee that you will be asked to do more of it, on a higher salary if you're lucky, and with greater recognition of your talents. The older some CIOs get, it seems, the more of other people's work they can expect to be asked to do, and just to add insult to injury, being tasked with elements of those other people's jobs isn't going to win them any extra financial rewards. What it gives CIOs instead, and all-importantly, is kudos and influence.
A recent survey of 172 CIOs by Harvey Nash USA found 43 percent of surveyed CIOs reported having responsibilities in departments other than IT.
That's the trouble with setting yourself up as an effective shared service department, the survey's authors reckon. Since many executives now see CIOs as the folks who run a shared service, they apparently figure it makes perfect sense for those CIOs to handle other shared services in the company. And why not?
Now clearly there are both dangers and strengths in assigning additional roles to CIOs. Taking on outside roles can help CIOs build credibility in the eyes of the business, and reinforce the criticality of IT's contribution. Expanding the CIO role into strategically important areas just as many CIOs are striving to become strategic leaders of their companies might be no bad thing.
But as Forrester Research vice president and research director Laurie Orlov has pointed out: "A CIO who is distracting himself with facilities and payroll and other services may not be devoting the degree of time needed to influence change inside a company. Are they doing the most that is feasible for them to do in influencing the business's use of technology?"
But why shouldn't some CIOs might see that responsibility as a path towards other, greater things?
Plenty of Aussie CIOs work assiduously at advancing their skills, working with other CXOs to build their understanding of different parts of the business.
As one CIO told me a while ago, it's not a question of having direct plans to move on from the CIO role into the business or a more senior position, but more a recognition that making yourself better at what you do every day is the best way to advance your career.
"Whilst I am very, very happy where I am, I am trying to build myself up to be better at what I do, while giving myself more and more options. I would rather build up my options than close them down," that CIO said.
In that sense it can be a very wise move to build up your skills to become more of an all-rounder and less of a specialist.
At a time when strong business oriented CIOs are being looked at for other corporate functions and opportunities for substantial CIO roles in Australia are contracting, building your business skills — and building up your ability to move into other areas — makes perfect sense. If that means taking on more of other people's jobs, then why not — as long as you get the credit you deserve?
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