"Now more than ever, the CIO needs to be a miracle worker in these companies," says Ken Gaebler, CEO of Grand Roads Executive Search LLC in Chicago.
Whereas in better times companies in some instances were taking advantage of outsourcing for IT talent, "The CEO and the investors have come to realize that at the heart of every great organization there's an information systems genius," Gaebler says.
Companies today aren't spending as much on outsourcing and CIOs have fewer people to do what needs to be done. Meanwhile, the expectations for driving top line revenues and for initiatives that will cut costs are higher than ever.
"So it's a time when CIOs have to really work magic at these large organizations," he says.
A CIO or CTO's primary concerns need to be "achieving their mission-critical responsibilities given that they have less people and less resources to do it with," says Brian Hoffman, managing partner at Winter, Wyman & Co., in Waltham, Mass. "That's what makes them more marketable: an ability to deliver in this market. The smart ones are looking at strategic issues" such as maintaining critical operations like the infrastructure and applications and deliverables to the user.
Post 9/11, some companies are now asking their CIOs and CTOs to get more involved in areas like data security and understanding and managing the secure nature of information, especially when dealing with portals to the external world, Hoffman adds.
CIOs are now "absolutely more accountable for the accuracy and protection of the information going through their databases," agrees Judy Homer, president of JB Homer Associates, an executive search firm in New York City. "They are remiss in their duties if they don't take on that responsibility."
As always, CIO candidates and current CIOs must also have "a discipline of self-improvement -- training to be a good CIO is like training for a marathon," says Gaebler. "You have to have a program for yourself that involves staying current in your industry, and [knowing] different management techniques."
CEO for the Back End
The valuable CIO brings to the table "a depth of skills and breadth of vision of the technology landscape that if we do this initiative it would revolutionize our business," Gaebler says. The job goes beyond the ability to keeping things running smoothly and keeping everyone happy; it's about how to innovate and lead the company to where it can perform better than its competitors. The CIO job has almost become a "chief operating officer for the back end," he says.
In terms of hiring, "there's a much tighter specification and people can be pickier about who they hire," Hoffman says. "They want someone who has a great track record in my industry who fits my culture," overall, "a perfect fit," which puts pressure on would-be CIOs to raise the level of their game, he says.
As to whether CEOs are hiring people with technology or business skill-sets, Homer believes "the pendulum is swinging to CIOs who have managed technology in their past and have also been involved in a P&L."
When she interviews a CIO candidate, Homer says she asks very different questions than she did two or three years ago. "Now it's about experience in prioritizing and outsourcing and working with less of a budget and how do they deploy people, as opposed to fact that they hired a consulting firm. It's a whole different ballgame now."