CIOs: Paranoid No More

In my 21 years covering ­IT, I’ve long been bothered by how often CIOs are discussed as if they’re a cowering pack of insecure wimps and incompetents. Vendors have spent years trying to scare up business by claiming that the average CIO gets the boot after 18 to 24 months.

“IT Doesn’t Matter” is just one among a long line of snarky headlines that goes back to “CIO: Misfit or Misnomer?,” “CIO Is Starting to Sound Like ‘Career is Over’,” and “Hatred: An Update (CEO-CIO Relationships).” Maybe I’m biased, but I dare anyone to name a class of executives who have done more for customers and shareholders, or have a greater right to be proud of their unprecedented accomplishments. I’ve always found it irritating when naysayers act as if CIOs (or IT organizations) are the pimply kids with the “Kick Me” sign stuck on their backs.

Fewer and fewer CIOs are buying into this stereotype. As Robert Gold, a consultant with Palladium Group Inc. in Lincoln, Mass., recently told me, “The CIOs I see are less defensive about their role. Five, six, seven years ago, CIOs seemed to look over their shoulders. You don’t see that as much anymore.” And no wonder: In this issue’s research study, our fifth annual “Role of the CIO” survey (page 65), we find that CIOs are staying on the job longer, compensation is rising and job satisfaction is incredibly strong. Alignment is a top priority at fewer companies, a sign that fewer CIOs are worried about being out of step with their companies.

What’s top of mind for CIOs isn’t paranoia, but priorities: outfoxing the competition, getting more value from information, improving processes. A case in point is this month’s Q&A with General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda. During his ten-year tenure, ­Szygenda has been one of the world’s most powerful and influential CIOs, a man who’s not afraid to throw his weight around with vendors. Back in 1996,

I spent two days with Szygenda at a Conference Board gathering for CIOs. It was only a few days after he took the job. What I remember was not any grand plan for GM, but his sober self-confidence and sense of purpose.

He told his peers that he took the job because he regarded it as the challenge of a lifetime. Challenge, not fear, drives CIOs and IT professionals. That’s why Szygenda has so much in common with his peers, no matter how large or small their companies.

On another topic, the editorial staff of CIO Insight are the proud recipients of a Jesse H. Neal award for outstanding journalism for our March 2005 special theme issue on Globalization. Early on, we recognized the importance of reporting on how a global economy will impact CIOs and their departments, and we plan on continuing to be your trusted source for insight on this important topic.

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