CIO Exodus Fueled by Job Dissatisfaction, IT Disrupters

By Pam Baker

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It appears CIO jobs are the least satisfying―so sayeth leading surveys and the gossip around many a water cooler. As a result, and despite record unemployment, a large number of currently employed CIOs are out shopping for new opportunities. Since this is hardly a good time to go on a job hunt, what’s driving the CIO herd to move on?

“Unlike other business unit leaders who are exposed only to the economic downturn, IT leaders are dealing with two highly disruptive developments mostly outside their control," explains Phil Garland, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Practice. Garland serves as the National Cross Sector CIO Advisory Solution leader at the firm.

“Lack of control” is the primary reason for depression and job dissatisfaction among any group of people according to current psychiatric journals. But what are these “disruptive developments” that have rendered hundreds if not thousands of CIOs powerless?

Garland said IT is going through a transition “as dramatic as the move from mainframe to client/server, except that, in an order of magnitude, a greater number of people will be affected.” This is because IT is on the cusp of a fundamental architectural shift from building, integrating, and owning proprietary infrastructures to sourcing "IT as a service" in highly standardized, commodity forms.

“We have been struck by how many leading organizations have moved much of the infrastructure out the door; started moving away from highly managed, provisioned clients (PCs and mobile); and embraced smart SaaS usage at the business unit level,” he said. Companies from very different industries are moving in similar directions.

Even when this takes the form of private Clouds the staffing levels are much reduced; public Clouds have far fewer internal IT staff. All of this is also happening in the context of the Great Recession.

Apparently, the level of individual emotional strain in this environment is directly related to the CIO’s personal views on the role of IT. “Those who enjoy strategy seem to be thriving emotionally, while other CIOs and CTOs are either lost or determined to change, meaning they are concerned but not pessimistic,” explains Garland. “Unfortunately, now, the top priority is either generating revenue (through enhanced customer services) or reducing cost. That is it. Those who remain fixated on grand plans that are inconsistent with this truth are the most discouraged.”

Oddly, salary rates are of less concern to CIOs in their current positions or in the new ones they seek. The Society for Information Management’s (SIM) 2009 IT Industry Trend Survey found that 81 percent of the respondents said staff salaries stayed the same or increased in 2009, while 91 percent expect salaries to stay level or increase in 2010 “ ... practically mirroring pre-recession levels.”

Other surveys, even in hard-hit areas, are showing similar salary movement for CIOs. For example, the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s recent Annual Total Compensation survey of the 13-county southwestern Pennsylvania region found “92 percent of those surveyed plan to pay increases in 2010 with a median upward adjustment of 2.7 percent.”

Enemy at the Gate

Of the CIOs looking to retain their current position, many are in more danger than they think of the bevy of CIOs now banging on the door to apply for their position. To protect themselves from being replaced, Garland said CIOs should avoid the following “career killers:”

For CIOs actively seeking new positions, there are a few hot areas they should consider targeting. “I see opportunities in businesses where IT is a major part of the business, as COO or strategist, such as telecom or digital media,” said Garland. “There is also a continuing role for CIOs in facilities/business continuity and in governance and compliance. Enterprise risk management is still a hot topic and represents a huge opportunity for thoughtful CIOs as well."

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker's published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to:  Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making.