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CIOs' roles expand to non-IT departments

In a recent survey, 43% of CIOs said they have taken on business responsibilities outside of IT.

CIOs who have experience in only IT are so yesterday.

New data suggests that more midmarket CIOs are taking on responsibilities in other parts of their companies -- in finance, facilities management, sales and human resources. A survey of 172 CIOs by Harvey Nash USA, a Wayne, N.J.-based division of the London-based international recruitment agency, found that 43% of CIOs reported they have responsibilities in departments other than IT.

I was told that IT was viewed as a more independent and unbiased resource to lead the project.
John Petry
manager of information systemsMettler-Toledo Hi-Speed
Experts say CIOs are looked at as people who are running a shared service, so executives start looking around at other shared services in the company and ask 'Why don't we give them to the person who is already running shared services?'

"This, in my opinion, is the most valuable role a CIO can play," said Steve Kraus, CIO of Olan Mills Inc., a national photography chain based in Chattanooga, Tenn. "Not all CIOs are capable of playing this role, due to their background. I do think that some organizations don't want their CIO to play this role, but this is clearly changing as technology becomes more critical to business strategy."

Kraus said he had a lot of non-IT experience before arriving at Olan Mills. With experience in other areas of the business, he's played an active role in those areas.

"When I first came to Olan Mills, I was initially targeted to replace their vice president of manufacturing, and spent my first year as director of manufacturing. When the idea of even having a CIO came up, my CEO asked me to switch to that role."

Distraction rather than asset

"It's an interesting phenomenon, but not necessarily a good one," said Laurie Orlov, vice president and research director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "A CIO who is distracting himself with facilities and payroll and other services may not be devoting the degree of time needed to influence change inside a company. Are they doing the most that is feasible for them to do in influencing the business's use of technology?"

However, Orlov said, some CIOs might see added responsibility as a steppingstone toward other things.

John Petry, manager of information systems at Mettler-Toledo Hi-Speed, an Ithaca, N.Y.-based maker of precision instruments for laboratories, industry and retail, said he sees this trend as an opportunity to improve the perception and appreciation of the IT organization.

"Over the years, IT has been making slow but steady progress at being viewed as something other than a bunch of 'tech heads' in a cost center," he said. "Because of our involvement in the day-to-day business activities across all departments, we have developed valuable knowledge that's now being sought by management."

Petry said there are two reasons why he is taking on responsibilities outside of IT.

"First is the trend toward everything being connected to the network," he said. "Second, at least in our case, IT is increasingly seen as having more business acumen and knowledge of the inner workings of the company. Subsequently, we're being viewed more as an equal partner than in the recent past."

Petry said over the years his organization has been asked to work closely with facilities management due to the integration of many of that department's systems with the company's network.

Petry said his organization has also been asked to delve into root causes of issues that are not IT-related, but are process- or people-related.

"For example, we recently provided management with data analysis on a portion of the engineering process within our company where we were experiencing problems," Petry said. "The deliverable was a report identifying the general area of concern and size of the problem. Subsequently, we were asked to spearhead an investigation of the process and determine the cause and solution. While traditionally something like the report we produced would kick back to the engineering folks for them to resolve, I was told that IT was viewed as a more independent and unbiased resource to lead the project."

Obvious transitions

Ronald Maillette, executive vice president and CIO of the Education Corporation of America in Birmingham, Ala., said he has recently taken on the responsibility of chief security officer.

"In my company we are growing rapidly, and there was a need to put accountability for security in the hands of a single position to provide strategic direction and coordinate tactical activities to ensure compliance with any company policies," Maillette said. "At my previous company, the CIO was also responsible for facilities and security at headquarters. The facility component never really made sense, and before I left I was successful in getting that moved to a much more appropriate corporate function."

Maillette said that as long as there is logic to the additional roles placed in IT and CIOs, it is a good thing. He said it can mainstream IT in the eyes of the rest of the business, and help legitimize it as a critical component of the business.

"In my mind, IT, finance and HR impact the business at the grassroots level more than any other groups, yet IT has consistently been more of the stepchild than any of the other areas," Maillette said.

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Anna Frazzetto, vice president of technology solutions at Harvey Nash, said the expanding role of the CIO is a good thing -- as long as those roles fit strategically with the overall goals and responsibilities of the CIO.

"Some of it is a good thing," Frazzetto said. "For example, seeing CIOs more responsible for business process outsourcing. That follows along the line of how can IT help the business side of the house. It's part of the overall trend of the CIO moving towards being more of a change agent. You really kind of empower the CIO to really do everything they're getting pressured to do, integrating more with the business and having more of a vision outside of IT."

But in other cases, if the added duties don't really fit in with the CIO, it can only serve as a distraction from the CIO's core mission.

"One thing I found kind of odd," she said. "We saw some people say they had responsibility for sales and marketing. It's really two completely different things. That's going overboard."

Bruce Blitch, CIO of Tessenderlo Kerley Inc., a provider of liquid sulfur solutions in Phoenix, said companies stand to benefit from allowing CIOs to reach into new areas of the business.

"I have responsibility for the traditional IT functions, but also for all telecommunications and all reprographics," he said. "I was surprised in a recent anecdotal survey of about 14 of my CIO peers that only two of us had this same breadth of responsibilities. The reason most gave was that that telecom and/or reprographics had always been handled by procurement, facilities or 'somewhere else' in their companies. It seems clear that as formerly disparate analog technologies converge around the digital corporate network, the logical place for the responsibility to converge is under the CIO."

"Too much synergistic benefit is at stake to have anything else happen," Blitch said. "Companies that don't recognize the possibilities of digital convergence, and change their allocation of responsibilities accordingly, will miss out on the benefits."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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