Should a CIO be driving your company’s future?

The results of a recent survey of over 2,000 executives from 75 countries including Canada show three-quarters of executives believe that chief information officers have a role to play on the board of directors.

The number of CIOs who currently sit on Fortune 1000 boards, however, remains

low, according to a spokesperson from Korn/Ferry International, which conducted the survey as part of its most recent Executive Quiz between May and June. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Korn/Ferry provides executive search, outsourced recruiting and leadership development services to customers in 35 countries worldwide.

The findings, which were based on the responses from executives registered with Korn/Ferry’s online Executive Centre, were released Thursday. Out of 2,043 respondents who were asked, “Do you believe that CIOs have a role to play on the board of directors?” 75 per cent said either “absolutely” or “somewhat” while only three per cent said “Not at all.”

Richard Spitz, global managing director of Korn/Ferry’s technology market, said there’s a lot of discussion today in the marketplace about the future role of the CIO. Key drivers shaping the CIO of tomorrow include pervasiveness of technology as well as technology’s maturity and increasing uniformity.

“Having a board member who understands what can be accomplished through leveraging IT is not only productivity can be very helpful,” said Spitz. “It takes a very strategic CIO who leaves his or her safety net of being a technology expert to jump in as a partner with the business people to understand where the advantages can be leveraged.”

Faye West, Software Human Resource Council (SHRC) chair and former Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) president, said while it’s been slow, CIOs are now gradually being accepted as senior managers of companies in Canada.

“It’s a natural progression that they would be seen more and more as board material,” said West, who is also director of information systems at the Alberta Research Council.

Similar to Spitz, West said there’s more recognition among executives that technology is critical to any organization.

“A few years ago if your IT systems went down for a few minutes, an hour or even a day it was inconvenient and it was difficult but you’re business didn’t grind to a halt. Now it does,” said West. “CIOs have to have a voice in what the company can do.”

Likewise, 51 per cent of executives said, in terms of technology spending, the state of the current economy is beginning to improve. An overwhelming majority of respondents also said that technology has “significantly improved” or “somewhat improved” efficiency at their company.

But proving how technology has improved business processes is becoming more and more difficult, said Spitz.

“The initial gains in productivity were easy,” said Spitz. “The question now is what other gains can be had from this investment. How do you justify that investment? Is it just making the accounting and e-mail systems work or is it something more?”

Unlike the tech heyday where the industry experienced double-digit growth and CIOs got free rein on technology purchases, CIOs are now more like any other executive in the company.

“During the boom it was like the sky’s the limit,” said West. “You got however much money you needed or wanted. Now, like every other part of the business, we have to make a case for our money and we’re going to get a little bit more or less.”

In terms of the industry as a whole, 62 per cent of respondents felt that the technology industry has “somewhat” recovered from the dot-com recession while 14 per cent said “not much” and two per cent said “not at all.”

The survey also asked participants if they would consider working for a technology company. Out of 2,309 respondents, 67 per cent said “highly likely” or “likely” while seven per cent said “unlikely.” Out of those that gave positive responses, 32 per cent said they would prefer to work for an established mid-sized technology firm while 25 per cent said they would prefer to work for a fledgling start-up with a small, new management team.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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