Although the Chief Officer Web site includes CEOs, CFOs, and other top managers in its membership, its strong representation of CIOs ensures a lot of lively discussion about IT issues in the Web-based community.

“Most of our members are technology savvy, be their current position CEO or CIO,” said Gergegly Tapolyai, the site’s founder and Webmaster. He added that 265 of the nearly 400 active members are in a technology-related position.

Members are mostly from the first tier of management—CEOs and presidents—and the second tier—vice presidents, CIOs, and directors who report directly to the top officers of organizations. The Chief Officer board of directors reviews and approves applications for membership to ensure that new members will have responsibilities and concerns similar to those of existing members. Applicants who do not initially qualify for membership may request mentoring from members who can help them grow in their careers and qualify for membership.

A worldwide network
Members come from 30 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Only about 35 percent of the membership is based in the United States. Because of the international flavor of the community, Tapolyai said that more than 70 percent of Chief Officer members speak at least two languages.

Tapolyai says weekly polls of members have helped form an interesting snapshot of the organization. For example, more than 56 percent say that they use reading as a “distraction from the daily rush,” and 54 percent believe that “directors asleep at the switch” are the most frequent cause of corporate failures.

The group has significant spending power, both professionally and personally. As a group, the members report managing more than $59 billion. Over 72 percent earn more than $150,000 per year. Despite the enticing demographics, the site protects members from unwanted solicitation by refusing to sell or rent its membership lists.

Candid views from peers
Chief Officer’s main goal is to provide a private forum for executives to discuss their views on a variety of topics, including technology, corporate management, career issues, and life outside of work.

Tapolyai said that recent technology discussions covered Microsoft licensing, open source code, corporate instant messaging, ERP systems, spam, patent rights, and virus outbreaks. Members have also been discussing management topics, including working with human resources departments and delegating responsibility. In addition, executives share ideas for working with recruiters and putting together resumes and curricula vitae.

“In our lifestyle forum,” Tapolyai said, “we let our hair down and talk about cooking, gardening, our children, medical issues, or restaurants in Hanoi or Paris—pretty much anything.”

Some CIOs contribute articles that are posted in public areas. One especially prolific contributor to the site is Kelly M. Heitmann, CIO/VP of technology at Edwards Systems Technology, a unit of SPX Corp. One recent essay tackled the decision to train employees on new tools or to look elsewhere for talent. In “Project Management—nah—Project Gestapo!” she reminded CIOs that ironfisted project managers may be loathed, but they can also save your job by keeping huge projects on track.

In another recent essay, Heitmann explained how her company saved about $200,000 on telecom bills by requiring employees to look up phone numbers through the Internet rather than by fee-based information services. By taking a closer look at phone bills, she eventually uncovered a PBX setup that allowed people from outside the company to dial in, be bounced to a trunk line, and “steal” long-distance calling. She believes that this vulnerability could theoretically be exploited by terrorists for free communications among terrorist cells, and therefore encouraged her peers to examine telecom billing more carefully.

CIOs aren’t the only members offering information relevant to IT departments. One attorney posted a basic but thorough introduction to software licensing agreements and also has tackled privacy requirements for company data.

Although some members write articles for the site, far more members participate in the discussion forums. 

“I can participate in the dialogue if I want to, or merely read along and see the advice others offer,” Heitmann said. “Sometimes if an issue touches home—something either I’m currently wrestling with or something I’ve already conquered—I give a little advice.”

Focus put on discussion forums
Membership costs $60 per year and provides access to all areas of the site, including the discussion forums. Guests are limited to reading selected member articles in the public area and viewing the FAQ and favorite links. The main interaction among members takes place in private discussion forums.

Tapolyai traced Chief Officer’s origins to 1999, when a consulting firm sold an established, Web-based executive community. However, the new owner didn’t provide the anticipated level of funding and support.

Although the business model wasn’t as appealing as it had been at the time of its sale, members still found a great deal of value in the community, Tapolyai said. Some worked to start a new, independent community that became Chief Officer, which was launched in May 2001.