The CIO in Crisis Mode

A number of outlets choose a word of the year. Past winners have included “blog,” “Y2K” and “subprime.” For 2008, both Merriam-Webster and the Amer-ican Dialect Society awarded an obvious choice: “bailout.”

If CIO Insight decided to get in the mix this year, the early front-runner in the IT leadership arena would have to be “crisis.”

I’m not talking about the economic crisis. Or the swine flu crisis. Or the crisis over health care or jobs. I’m talking about the particular crisis (or, better yet, crises) facing CIOs today.

CIOs are under the gun to cut costs and boost productivity. Their executive peers are calling on them to become more business savvy and to better align their strategies with those of the overall business. All the while, their bosses expect them to build and hone an innovation machine that will set their companies up for success after the recession.

A whopping 95 percent of respondents to our annual CIO Role study say CIOs are expected to change the way business works. But seven in 10 say CIOs get less respect than other C-level executives.

That points to a clear lack of perceived legitimacy in the CIO function.

Dr. Art Langer, senior director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Community Engagement at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, weighs in on this issue in his debut analysis for CIO Insight. Langer’s piece, “Is the CIO Crisis Here?”, looks at the startling fact that in the midst of the recession, many businesses have let their CIOs go–and they have not named replacements. In many cases, they’re leaving the former CIO’s deputy to run the IT organization, just without the C-level title.

Langer astutely attributes much of this fallout to the role’s perceived lack of legitimacy. IT leaders don’t have a formal body to support them and lobby on their behalf, he writes, leaving many to wonder if the function is needed in the executive suite. Without such advocacy, CIOs could continue to feel the pinch.

We’re happy to have Art Langer on board at CIO Insight. Beginning in this issue, Langer will provide hard-hitting analyses on some of the biggest issues CIOs face today. He brings years of academic and professional experience in dealing with CIOs and IT work forces, and should give you plenty to think about in the coming months. We’re also happy to welcome Larry Bonfante, CIO of the United States Tennis Association, who will offer his take on top CIO priorities in each issue.

Guy Currier, who oversaw our CIO Role study and wrote its accompanying analysis, doesn’t see CIOs disappearing, per se, but says that the function is clearly in trouble. “The possibility of the demise of the CIO position seems overblown, to say the least,” he writes. “But the fact that nearly 16 percent of our survey respondents this year agreed with the statement, ‘The CIO position will have virtually disappeared in 10 years,’ represents a profound crisis brewing for IT leaders.”

But with every crisis comes opportunity. For CIOs, there are plenty of them to go around.

About two in three respondents to our annual CIO Role study believe the CIO role will look very different in 10 years. Frankly, I’m surprised that number isn’t much higher. By tackling the aforementioned issues now, though, CIOs will do a huge service to themselves and their peers. This transition into the future will strengthen the CIO community–and potentially help stave off an even greater crisis in their ranks.

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