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Geezers revolt: Age discrimination tops the best CIO stories of 2006

Of the many issues we followed this year, age discrimination hit home hardest with our CIO readers. But other stories struck a nerve, too. Revisit the issues that mattered most to you in our 2006 collection of best CIO stories.

Throughout 2006, covered a wide range of news topics -- the emergence of Web 2.0 in the enterprise, CIOs getting fired for security breaches, battery recalls, the Avian flu, the BlackBerry brouhaha, employee monitoring and a CIO who took the heat for a very unpopular decision.

But it was a story about age that cut deepest.

In "Gartner: Age does matter," an analyst's observation that older CIOs are not as hip as their younger brethren when it comes to new technologies set off a firestorm of reaction from SearchCIO readers.

Who you calling a geezer, was the outraged response.

Regardless of whatever else was going on this year, it seemed to us that age was a subtle but visible thread that weaved its way through much of what we reported on. (Perhaps I picked up on it because I'm older.) Few of our readers bought into this gender rift, registering their disgust with the notion that knowing how to use an iPod makes you an expert in IT.

Demographically speaking, CIOs are older. So it came as no surprise to us that the article "Out-of-work CIOs find reprise as consultants" also hit a nerve with readers. The story was supposed to be about retired CIOs turned consultants for yuks, but it quickly turned into a story about 50-somethings who were forced into consulting because they lost their jobs (for being outdated and too high-paid). Ironic, isn't it?

Regardless of what other people say, CIOs are indeed on top of those cutting-edge, Web 2.0-type technologies. The article "Wikis and blogs transforming workflow" created a lot of buzz among our readers, many of whom are having heated debates over social collaboration tools -- mostly as they relate to security. But a handful of CIOs have deployed wiki technology with great success and are spreading the word. Deploying wiki technology does open you up to security risks, but the improvement in terms of collaboration among employees is worth the risk. After all, this isn't a technology thing. It's a cultural thing. How open are you to bringing these tools into your workplace?

Among the many stories written about a potential Avian flu pandemic and apocalyptic doom, most of which focused on disaster recovery planning, this one got to the core of what CIOs really think about an Avian flu plan: It won't matter. In "White House report on Avian flu reinforces CIO concerns," CIOs were candid about their greatest fear: No matter how prepared a company is, if people are dying, any plan that's put into place will be futile. Discouraging, perhaps, but clearly it resonated with other CIOs who were plugging along putting plans into place, wondering if the effort would all be for nothing.

In "CIOs take heat for security snafus," we asked the question CIOs, unfortunately, never ask: If there's a security breach, whose head will roll? The answer surprised many midmarket CIOs who thought they were immune. Some even thought a breach might get them leverage when asking for an increase in their IT security budgets. The fact is, CIOs are being used as scapegoats -- most often in organizations experiencing their first security breach. CEOs and CFOs don't know how to respond and their first reaction is to blame someone. That someone is often the CIO. As one expert says, companies are grossly undersecuring their data, and when an incident happens, they're equally extreme in firing someone.

With nearly 5 million BlackBerry customers, Research In Motion Ltd.'s (RIM) "CrackBerry" is the personal digital assistant (PDA) of choice for the executive set. You'd have thought, then, that CIOs would be panicked at the prospect of losing the technology to a patent infringement lawsuit. But in "CIOs plan last laugh in BlackBerry brouhaha," CIOs assured us they were way ahead of the game. By the time Microsoft announced the Treo, its version of the PDA, CIOs were already testing alternatives to RIM technology. As it turns out, everyone got to keep their BlackBerrys. And when the dust settled, some CIOs decided RIM wasn't worth it after all and switched to Microsoft anyway.

A CIO's bungling of a major software contract was at the center of "Wisconsin CIO gets slammed on Oracle email debacle." This story raised eyebrows among CIOs who are accustomed to being relegated to the back room, not called out in the public spotlight. Like this CIO, many are finding themselves on the hot seat for unpopular decisions. Bottom line: Public CIO or private, being the CIO is increasingly more political. If you can't stand the political heat, you better get out of the kitchen.

As impossible as it sounds to many of us, there are a lot of employees out there who haven't a clue that their boss is watching how and when they use the Internet -- and many don't even care. Despite the fact that legally (in most cases) employers have the right to monitor whatever is being conducted on company-owned computers, in "Employees to CIOs: It's OK to watch," CIOs said they are sensitive about monitoring for fear of creating a hostile work environment. Still, experts tell CIOs to get over it. The monitoring of Web site usage is rapidly become a workplace security and productivity standard.

A handful of laptops are exploding because of bad batteries and Dell makes the biggest recall in computer history. But while Dell's reaction made news, the real story for us was how CIOs were handling the recall. For some, it wasn't so bad, for others, a nightmare. "Battery recall has upside for Dell" was one of our best-read stories of the year. Seems a much-watched video on YouTube can go a long, long way.

"IT managers at smaller firms lack clout" was one of those stories that confirmed our suspicions: Despite all this talk about CIOs needing more business acumen, there are CIOs who are perfectly happy being tech geeks -- that is, until a guy with business savvy takes over the IT department. This story hit a sore spot with CIOs (of smaller companies in particular) who found out, some too late, that they may have worked their way out of a job.

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