Where We Were and Where We’re Headed

This last observation goes right to the heart of the matter. In the past, when most programmers and developers worked in-house and not in India, IT was limited in its ability to affect the business and its processes. Today, off-the-shelf solutions abound and it is up to the CIO to know when a system upgrade will benefit the business, hurt it or just be a waste of money fixing something that doesn’t need to be fixed. These are business decisions, not technology decisions.

“Overall, I think the CIO role has become more a strategic, business-orientated role rather than being just a tactical role,” agreed Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology and 15-year veteran of the IT placement business. “I remember when there wasn’t even a CIO. It was kind of like you had an MIS manager and that person just took care of your computers in your computer room.”

While still an integral part of the job, most good CIOs hire good help to accomplish this day-to-day task. That’s what makes them managers and not line employees as they once where considered.

CIO Every Time

Given the choice between any senior job in any organization, regardless of pay, Bob Molnar, a partner at the placement firm of Highland Partners, said he would take the CIO’s job every time. Granted, Molnar — a former CIO at global media giant Viacom — already is partial to the position, but his reasons are rooted not so much in his past as in his experiences.

“I think he’s got the job that’s the most fun,” said Molnar. “It is a tough job. It is a challenging job. The CIO can impact the company much more the CFO (for example). The CFO can squeeze the purse strings, but he can’t make productivity happen, he can’t make efficiencies happen. He can’t improve customer service and handling like a CIO can. He can’t help create something in terms of delivering the technical capabilities for a new product or new offering like the CIO can.”

And therein, perhaps, lies the pay off. While the job has changed and, by most observations, become more difficult, it is also much more challenging and dynamic. The pocket protectors are long gone and along with them the stigma that IT is just another department servicing the company’s more important business functions.

For today’s CIO being successful is more about learning and understanding than bits and bytes. A job that calls for the best to be their best and, definitely, not one for the faint of heart.