Leadership

CIO Jury: Is there a boardroom IT credibility gap?

Or are CIOs and IT directors valued by other senior execs…
CIOs believe there is a gap between how important they think they are and how the rest of the executive team in the boardroom actually see their strategic importance to the company.

A new Gartner report this week found that non-IT executives ranked their IT colleagues seventh out of a choice of eight senior executive posts, just ahead of the HR director.

We put this to the silicon.com CIO Jury and asked whether they agreed there is a gap between how CIOs perceive themselves and how CEOs and other non-IT executives view their strategic importance.

Three-quarters (eight) of our CIOs said they agreed that there is a gap. Steve Anderson, IT partner at law firm Davis Langdon, said that while the dot-com boom propelled many heads of IT to the boardroom, it also had the adverse effect of inflating their strategic importance above the perceptions of others.

"The bottom line is that although IT is critical to most businesses today it is not as important at a strategic level and CIOs need to realise that as members of the management team their focus is on solving business problems and seizing business opportunities rather than just banging the drum about IT being a 'good thing'," he said. "If this is the only focus then they should be demoted and put back under the CFO but not take it personally. This is just how businesses work."

Colin Cobain, IT director at Tesco, said there are many organisations where the senior management are still of the wrong generation and don't "get it", while Mark Lichtenhein, head of IT and new media at the PGA European Tour, and Paul Allen, head of IT at Commerzbank's UK online share dealer subsidiary Comdirect, bemoaned the perception that CIOs just keep the IT running over.

Lichtenhein said: "CIOs are generally weak at explaining the value of technology in business terms and may in any case overestimate its importance. Similarly CEOs and other execs tend to classify all IT as an 'engine room' activity."

Mark Foulsham, head of IT at online insurance firm esure, said the credibility gap is closing. "However non-IT executives continue to become more IT literate without a reciprocal advancement of businesses acumen from IT professionals."

Of those who disagreed with the assertion that CIOs are not as important as they think they are, Bill Gibbons, CIO at Abbey, said execution and IT leadership are at the heart of any good business.

"IT leadership must also promote innovation and demonstrate capability in developing partnerships with external suppliers and the cost effective management of the IT supply chain. If all these things are both delivered and clearly demonstrated then both the IT leadership role and the value of IT will be recognised as both strategic and important," he said.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO at Manpower, said the gap occurs when things are lost in translation. "Too many CIOs understand where IT can add value and thoroughly understand how the whole enterprise works 'end to end' - but they can't always convey this in business terms."

Today's CIO Jury was…

Paul Allen, head of IT, Comdirect
Steve Anderson, IT partner, Davis Langdon
Colin Cobain, IT director, Tesco
Frank Coyle, IT director, John Menzies Distribution
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO, Manpower
Mark Foulsham, head of IT, esure
Bill Gibbons, CIO, Abbey Group
David Jemitus, head of IT, Government Planning Portal
John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis Partnership
Mark Lichtenhein, director of IT and new media, PGA European Tour
Henry McNeill, CIO, Telstra Europe
Steve Ritchie, CIO, Investcorp

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com

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