IT Leadership is Crucial to CIO Survival

By Pam Baker

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They stand on a high and precarious perch that is visible to all but dangerous to just one: the CIO. To survive and prosper in this harsh new environment, a CIO must boldly make his mark and daringly place her bets. It is not a position for the fearful, the weak or the bashful techie.

“CIOs that are more backroom-oriented -- preferring to stay out of customer-facing roles, improving the IT/IS functions, compliance, etc. as a main focus -- will be at a considerable disadvantage in 2010,” said Kim Batson, CIO Coach at Career Management Coaching.

To be successful today, a CIO must target specific and highly visible goals or become a target himself. “Managing customer relationships and impacting business growth through innovation and improvement of products and services is becoming increasingly important for the new CIO,” she explains.

However, it isn’t enough to do a good job and let the work speak for itself. Technology has become too imperceptible to higher management and worker bee alike for such a tactic to succeed. When technology works, no one notices. When it doesn’t work, everyone notices. “The argument for the CIO to be more strategic is getting louder and more pointed,” said Tom DeGarmo, a principal in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ advisory practice and leader of its Technology Consulting Solutions practice.

That’s not likely to change anytime soon. Indeed, for the foreseeable future the CIO remains pinned in the spotlight -- whether that’s for accolades or blame is an open question.

“It is expected that more corporate boards will refocus on business strategies to increase revenues,” said DeGarmo. “CIOs in a global economic environment need to be thinking about innovation and position for economic growth.”

Just how strategic a CIO should be varies according to your company’s needs and expectations, and your skills and interests. A successful CIO must be able to assess and navigate those expectations, compare them to his or her personal strengths and interests, and decide how best to match the needs and capabilities.”

DeGarmo touts “The Three Hats” as crucial to the new IT leadership role that he calls “The Situational CIO.” They are: IT Problem Solver, Cost Cutter and Strategist.

The strategist hat covers more than corporate strategy. A CIO is well advised to focus on building his own brand to aid in career moves whether that is job retention, promotion or a new position. It is crucial these days to have a highly visible name and reputation.

“Because of all of this, now more than ever, it's important for CIOs to network as much as possible, both in the traditional and social media sense,” said Meredith Caley, a vice president of Recruiting at ConsultNet, an IT and engineering staffing firm.

“Yes, this means self-promotion, which many technology-related executives shy away from, but it's essential to have a strong network of face-to-face as well as online contacts who know who you are and value your skills,” she said. “For those who do this correctly, they will be highly visible for new opportunities, and be able to bounce back in case there is a cut back."

Last, but certainly not least, the new strategic-oriented CIO will need to build alliances in order to achieve the bigger goals: the goals that require more than just buying, deploying or cutting technologies.

“The CIO in 2010 is increasingly business and finance savvy,” explains Eric Eder, founder and president of Sequris Group, an IT security company. “For example, we are seeing much stronger alliances between the CIO and CFO then ever before.”

Eder said the CFO is the “executive power broker for 2010” and therefore represents a crucial alliance for the CIO. Other alliances inside and outside corporate walls will also need to be struck, in part to see strategic plans to fruition but also to cover the CIOs backside if project attempts fail or falter.

When all of this is said and done, the CIOs left standing will not be the bench-sitters. The shy and eccentric CIOs are definitely on the endangered list.

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.