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Tuesday, 19 July 2011 07:47

IT buck stops with CEO

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Modern businesses are so reliant on technology that when computer systems fail in the future it will be the CEO rather than the CIO who receives the kick in the rear. CIOs that let them get into that position however probably shouldn't expect long tenure.

Recruitment specialist Hudson has today released The Reconstructed CIO, part of its 2011 leadership series of reports based on roundtable discussions with leading chief information officers. It notes that today 'IT is the actual fabric of the organisation.'

Quoting Michael Dines, OneSteel's CIO, the report notes; 'The IT folk are the only people that actually understand the whole business, from taking an order to shipping a product, to getting the money out of the customer. No one else has that visibility of the process.'

The importance of IT is such that according to Carey Eaton, CIO of Seek; 'In 20 years' time a CEO who doesn't understand the importance of IT is going to be a very uncompetitive CEO.'

Twenty years' breathing space however seems highly optimistic given the importance already of IT to many sectors - particularly banking, finance, manufacturing and retail.

Martin Retschko, national practice director, Hudson ICT agreed that it probably wouldn't take 20 years for technophobe CEOs to fall out of favour as 'technology is now front and centre of most organisations today.'

According to Mr Eaton; 'Boards are going to require accountability for technology to be at the CEO level not at the CIO, partly because society is driving technology so deep into organisations that organisation failure and IT failure are pretty close together.'


Keeping the lights on will only be half the equation though according to Mr Dines. 'Modern CIOs'¦must embrace and even direct a component of the strategic vision of the organisation.'

He said that in light of that he had restructured his IT staff into two teams - one focussed on operations and outsourcers (keeping the lights on) and another group which was based in the business and whose role was to develop IT strategy.

Finding the right people to populate such a structure was a challenge according to CIOs who participated in the roundtable. They claimed that offering more money was seen as a blunt recruitment instrument (although still quite effective it seems) while more flexible working conditions were now considered a right for scarce IT workers.

CIOs admitted though that because of time pressures they rarely used modern recruitment tools such as job trials, intelligence or personality testing or behavioural interview techniques. Given the significant shortage of business analysts, project managers and systems architects - plus some technical skills such as Java and .Net - it was more a case of finding a body and hoping for the best - even if that person was then pushed into a team where there was a poor cultural fit and negative productivity impacts.

Mr Retschko said that the best CIOs were constantly assessing the competencies and capabilities of their teams and also performing workforce planning. It was however an approach found only in pockets, he admitted.

'The vast majority are focused on how quickly they can get the skills in house,' said Mr Retschko. However he said that there was a fresh caution in business around any investment in headcount, and after an initial surge in demand for permanent IT employees in the first quarter of the year that had tailed off somewhat.

'Technology projects in general are getting greater scrutiny than ever'¦and IT departments are more stretched than they ever have been.' He said that over the last three months there had been an uptick in demand for contractors, along with projects being offloaded to professional services firms which were being used to mop up demand rather than expanding IT headcounts with fresh permanent employees.


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