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There may have been a time when keeping the company`s data centres up and running was good enough, but today`s expectations for a chief information officer (CIO) are much, much higher. There may have been a time when keeping the company`s data centres up and running was good enough, but today`s expectations for a chief information officer (CIO) are much, much higher.

Today`s CIO is a business leader, not just an IT manager, steering a mission-critical function as large and as complex as any operation in the company, working side by side with business units to help improve performance and efficiency, says a recent Deloitte report on the changing role of the CIO.

CIOs help other business leaders in the company see what`s possible, and help them anticipate what`s lurking in the business environment and competitive moves of others, notes the report.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first time the phrase `chief information officer` was used in IT, notes CIO Insight. In its annual survey of CIOs, the magazine takes a snapshot of today`s CIOs: their age, background, experience and compensation.

Business vs. IT background

This year focused on how many of the 405 CIOs surveyed come from IT or business backgrounds, or a mix of the two, and what their responsibilities were, including their role in mergers and acquisitions and managing other functions besides IT.

The study uncovered an important shift in CIO priorities. In recent years, cutting costs has been among the top priorities for CIOs. But today, other concerns - notably improving business processes, the IT infrastructure and architecture, and - rank higher.

Why are these issues so critical now? Because architecture, integrated infrastructure and business processes support the kind of growth companies seek today, speculates CIO Insight. Globalisation requires standardised IT platforms and business processes, and acquisition strategies depend on standardisation to eliminate redundancies and achieve economies of scale.

The 2005 CIO survey found that one in three CIOs manages another corporate function besides IT: most frequently strategic planning, but also building and grounds, day-to-day operations, and customer service. More than half of CIOs are also involved in mergers and acquisitions. Given the importance of IT in getting value out of a merger today, it`s hard to envision how they could be left out of the discussion, says CIO Insight.

Over the years, much of the debate about CIOs has focused on whether they should come from the business or the IT side. According to the survey, for most the answer is both: 26% of CIOs have backgrounds that are evenly divided between business and IT. The obvious advantage is a CIO who can comfortably wear both a business suit and a technology cape.

An oft-quoted statement by EXP vice-president Jose Ruggero is that "Today and tomorrow`s CIO must lead like a CEO, analyse like a CFO and execute like a COO. It`s the hardest job in a large organisation," he went on to add.

Bank group executive: Group Business & Technology Services Leon du Rand observes that financial institutions worldwide constantly face new challenges that force the adoption of emerging technologies and approaches to enable business change.

CIO role expanded

"The past few years, business and technology environments have compelled CIOs to be more strategic, to take an enterprise view of change, and to integrate business and technology change across a number of disciplines," he says.

And so, the CIO role has been expanded into four complementary roles: IT executive, enterprise architect, business advisor and strategist, elaborates .

The role of CIO has changed from being the technology provider in the organisation to the business strategist who has inputs into the business plan and enables the business to meet its objectives set out in this plan, adds Sage CIO .

"The CIO has also become a mentor, consultant and relationship manager, rather than someone who prescribes to business on the way forward with regard to business solutions."

"Top CIOs should be business centric and be people oriented. Top CIOs translate business needs into IT solutions. They identify emerging trends in technology and systems that will benefit the business and bring it into the business in business terms, says Tiger Brands CIO .

CIO magazine claims that for a CIO to succeed in 2005, he or she will have to drive growth and innovation while managing costs; develop the next generation of leaders; prove the strategic value of IT; run IT efficiently and effectively, and manage CEO and CFO expectations.

Absa`s Du Rand cites a number of factors as contributing in this redefining of the role of CIO, namely increased globalisation; mega or hyper with competitors a mere `click` away today; disintermediation; demand for greater agility and efficiency; the fact that CIOs have become part of the strategic business planning cycle, with a shared vision for IT; the need to create business value, and general merger and acquisition activity.

Moreover, he says, increased business demands and expectations have also played their role in a change, as have the optimisation of IT investments; increasingly holistic enterprise views; increased sourcing (outsourcing, in-sourcing and procurement); demand for greater alignment; increased regulation; risk mitigation; convergence of the `old` and `new` economies; and finally, increased governance (King II, IFRS, Basel 2 etc.).

Gartner concurs on the outsourcing issue, and adds changing work practices to this list. "IT has become a business enabler, while the CIO is also seen as the catalyst to consolidate and drive down operational costs through system optimisation, process efficiency and improvement in business effectiveness," comments Watkins.

"The continual rising cost of IT is seen by the business as a `bottomless pit`," maintains Thwaits. "We have to turn this into being seen as a `value centre`. To do this we have to find ways of recording and measuring the value of what we do in hard facts, that is business terms, and then communicate this to business."

"Relationship management and service level development and management have become a large part of my job as IT no longer prescribes to the business, but enables the business," says Watkins.

Du Rand warns that some South African companies have not recognised the importance of the CIO role and those CIOs are not involved in strategic decisions and business planning.

Unfortunately for those CIOs, their careers will end soon.

"Progressive companies have adapted to the changes and are moving forward. You will note that many of these companies now have a group business and technology services division," he observed.

According to Du Rand, Absa has embraced the changing role of the CIO and has expanded the accountability of the CIO role to also include enterprise architecture; service management and support; and group implementation and business change enablement.

Watkins, meanwhile, differentiates between small and large organisations in this regard. "In large organisations, the CIO role has become more strategic rather than technical as in the past.

Smaller organisations have not realised the value IT can bring to the organisation, and merely view it as a support function," he says.

Thwaits echoes their concerns, noting that not enough South African companies are doing enough to reinvent the role of CIO, but notes that it is never too late to start or to raise the bar.

But just where is this bar when it comes to IT leadership and its responsibilities?

Gartner EXP`s Andy Rowsell-Jones has defined the key responsibilities of the CIO of the future as IT leadership, architecture development, business enhancement, technology enhancement, and vendor management.

Absa`s Du Rand says that his technology leadership priorities are contained within five inter-related dimensions, namely strategic positioning of the organisation, technology exploitation, transformation, service excellence, and relationships with all stakeholders.

Sage`s Watkins lists strategy formulation, operationalisation of this strategy, alignment, overseeing delivery, outsource agreement management, relationship management, mentoring, consulting and solution design as his technology leadership priorities.

In its CIO report, Deloitte lists the following as what it perceives to be the 10 greatest opportunities and challenges in information and technology today: creating and growing shareholder value; alignment between the IT and business strategies; governance and funding issues; business integration; IT sourcing; performance measures; security and risk; IT and legal compliance; growing talent; and the ability to look beyond customer service.

"The CIO, as we know it, is a dying breed. We are seeing the role reinvented. On the one hand, we see a high-profile role as CIOs work on the demand side with the business.

"On the other, we see the industrialisation of the IT world. It has become standardised and packaged," concludes Rowsell-Jones.

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