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Holiday paean to the CIO: You done good. Chin up.

I’ve been checking back with CIOs whose projects we profiled in this year of the Great Recession. Your mood, I’d say, is sober. Never mind about the familiar doing more with less mandate — one CIO told me he feels like he’s being asked to do more with nothing.

McKinsey & Co.’s annual IT survey of business and IT executives seems to bear this out. When CIOs and CTOs were asked how well their IT functions responded to the economic crisis, about 49% said their management of IT infrastructure was extremely or very effective — a decline of 13 percentage points from 2008. IT executives were down on themselves in other areas of IT operations, as well. Only 21% said IT was very or extremely effective in “driving technology enablement or innovation in business processes and operations” — also down 13 percentage points from in 2008. And only 21% said they were very or extremely satisfied with their ability to “target places in the organization where IT can add the most value” — down 10 percentage points from 2008.

Interestingly, non-IT executives were more satisfied with IT’s management of infrastructure — with 55% percent reporting very or extremely effective performance on IT’s part, up from 50% in 2008. Their satisfaction with higher-value activities, such as on-time/on-budget project delivery and “proactive engagement from IT,” was less gushing, hovering in the 30s, the report found. But significantly, their opinion of IT performance on these fronts was unchanged from the year before, despite all the economic turmoil and cost-cutting, according to the McKinsey survey.

On other fronts, the survey found that companies have a growing appreciation for what IT can do for it. For example, this year, improving business efficiency was ranked as IT’s foremost job in helping further the company’s goals, beating out “keeping costs low” by 12 percentage points. This suggests that companies’ reliance on IT to make business efficiency happen was more important to them in 2009 than in nickel and diming IT budgets.

That CIOs took a dimmer view of their ability to deliver in 2009 does not surprise. CIOs are hard on themselves — they have to be, because IT is complex. Letting up can bring down a company or a swath of the nation’s airports in seconds.

But the double-digit declines in satisfaction over IT’s effectiveness in enabling and innovating business processes and finding ways to add value to the business should be worrisome to CEOs who are pleased with what their CIOs are doing. A prominent recruiter we talked to recently said she is hearing from a lot of CIOs who, having stuck with their company’s during the downturn, now want to take their skills and savvy and move on.

This might be the year for CEOs to put something good under the proverbial tree for CIOs. And my yuletide greeting for CIOs? Chin up. You done good.

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