In an era when the chief information officer has often been an outsider, frequently excluded from businesses’ executive boards, new research apparently shows an increasing executive recognition – at least in Europe – of how the role is vital in helping businesses grow out of the recession and win new customers.
CIOs often fail to make the board and – unlike chief financial officers or chief operating officers – rarely rise to become chief executive. Yet they enable a business to run, execute its strategy, enter new markets, understand operations and customers, and increase efficiency.
According to a report on C-suite business leaders in four large European nations, a major shift is taking place whereby CIOs increasingly report directly to the chief executive. Some 42 per cent do so, compared to 27 per cent who report to the COO and 26 per cent to the CFO. The research is based on interviews with 550 finance, marketing, HR and IT decision makers, in the UK, Ireland, France and Sweden.
CIOs in the UK have some of the strongest support from their colleagues, according to the research by business continuity provider SunGard Availability Services. Nearly all non-IT decision makers surveyed (95 per cent) said they were highly confident their CIOs had the skills and expertise to support the business as it executed its strategy.
But Joe Peppard, Professor at the European School of Management and Technology, says there is still room for improvement in how CIOs are perceived: “Historically IT has had a tricky relationship with the rest of the business. It’s often referred to as a troubled marriage, but in many cases it’s not the technology that’s the problem, but a perception that it doesn’t deliver, is inflexible and drains resources”. This will change as CIOs “lead from the front”, he notes.
The high demand on CIOs, however, is taking its toll on performance. Some 46 per cent of business decision makers in the UK highlighted the weight and complexity of daily demands as making it difficult for CIOs to work effectively and consistently achieve their goals. And over half said that CIOs need more resources to support them.
When over two thirds say the CIO is vital to improving the experience of both customers and employees, the daily struggle for CIOs to create time in order to focus on strategy is somewhat alarming. But the key is if the increasing recognition of the CIO’s importance leads to businesses providing the right support and nurturing skilled staff – and of course if CIOs get a proper place on the board. Perhaps that is where many of the best opportunities await.
Tomorrow: I look at why IT buyers and suppliers are optimistic in 2014.
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