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How CIOs Can Benefit From Having Dual Roles

How CIOs Can Benefit From Having Dual Roles

More CIOs are being asked to take on responsibilities outside of IT. And it's not just the business that benefits. Expanding your job description can be good for your career, too — provided you master the politics and rethink how you run IT

Among the entire management team at Best Western International, Scott Gibson has the longest title.

Evidence suggests that an increasing number of IT leaders are accepting official positions that extend beyond the traditional technology function

Sure, there's a tendency toward wordiness when it comes to describing positions at the hotelier. Look at the nameplate on Ric Leutwyler's door: Senior Vice President of Brand Quality and Member Service.

But the extra ink required to print Gibson's latest batch of business cards goes beyond verbosity. The 47-year-old technology executive, who joined the company in 2005 as CIO and senior vice president of distribution, last summer added a third title: senior vice president of strategic services. That means Gibson heads up the IT organization and the call centre operations team, where he oversees all methods of distribution from call centres to travel agents to online travel sites, and he is in charge of corporate strategic planning.

(For the record, that makes him CIO and Senior Vice President, Distribution and Strategic Services.)

While that drawn-out descriptor may make him unique among his Best Western peers, Gibson's hardly singular when judged against the CIO cohort. More than half of CIOs report having responsibilities outside of IT, according to a survey of 1500 CIOs by Gartner Executive Programs. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests that an increasing number of IT leaders are accepting official positions that extend beyond the traditional technology function. "We've seen enough of it going on that we can say it really is a trend," says Bobby Cameron, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research.

It's what Martha Heller, managing director of the IT leadership practice at executive search firm ZRG, calls the "CIO-and" phenomenon. The new CIO-plus roles are more substantial than hyphenate titles of old like CIO and vice president of e-business. Today, notes Heller (who is also a CIO columnist), "the add-on titles are typically more strategic, enterprisewide and often customer-facing."

That seems like good news. CIOs have been so successful that their bosses are betting they'll add value outside of IT — an affirmation, if there ever was one, of the business value of an IT leader. And CIOs in these magnified roles are better positioned to deliver improved processes and business results than if they held only the technology position. "CIOs have a greater ability to influence their firms' direction — process, strategy, business models — when they have more of a role on the business side," says Cameron.

But a hybrid role has its downside. It requires infinitely more from the IT leader — and the IT staff, who have to take on more responsibility as their bosses' workload compounds. If you think you've got your hands full with just IT, well, forget it. What's more, having a dual role can breed resentment outside IT as CIOs encroach on others' turf.

Yet some experts say these hybrid roles are a necessary outgrowth of the increasingly business-focused CIO role. "The natural evolution is to have the topmost role of the senior technology executive become a general management role, not a technology role," says Cameron. "As a result, it is normal for [today's] CIO to pick up additional responsibilities that require the same style of general management discipline."

But these CIO-"and" roles have some wondering what will become of the standalone chief information officer role. "The CIO is going to be more of a process innovation and business transformation agent who understands how to apply technology to support strategic initiatives," says Sam Gordon, CIO practice director at Harvey Nash Executive Search. "I think it's unlikely that the CIO role as we know it will exist in 10 to 15 years' time."

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