The source of clout

Does it really matter whether your CIO is one of the five best-paid executives in the company? Yeah it matters. It matters because those dollars measure how much clout the CIO has.

Does it matter? Does it really matter whether your CIO is one of the five best-paid executives in the company? In last week's
Computerworld US cover story, reporter Kim S Nash dug through proxy statements for the Fortune 1000 and discovered that only 46 CIOs - 4.6% - made that lofty grade.

Of course, that doesn't take into account big conglomerates where the top five has to include divisional presidents. And just because your CIO is No. 6 or 7 doesn't mean IT doesn't have a place at the table. It's just an indicator. But yeah, it matters. Not because it means the CIO gets a bigger boat. Not because the IT shop gets bragging rights. Not because the visibility demonstrates that technology is really business-critical here or some such high-sounding gobbledygook.

It matters because those dollars measure how much clout the CIO has. That's clout to get capital equipment IT people need, to make important projects happen, to hire the right people and pay them well. It's clout to go head to head with sales and manufacturing and marketing chiefs at budget time. It's clout to help guide the business.

Not just the technology the business. That's why a CIO has clout. Not professionalism. Not technical savvy. Certainly not the "business importance of IT." CIOs with clout are at the table because they understand business, they talk business and they make business happen.

And, oh yeah, because their IT departments understand business and make it happen, too. CIOs with clout have IT people who take care of business.

Not just technology. Business.

And why aren't more CIOs on the nosebleed rungs of the corporate ladder? Because too many people in their IT shops aren't comfortable with business.

OK, sure, we're technical people. We like code and wires and speeds and feeds. And for a long time we didn't really have much to do with doing business. We just processed data.

But those days ended long ago. And today we can't afford to be the only major group in the company that's not focused on doing business.

Look, we'd sneer at a sales guy who could make an elaborate pitch but couldn't close the sale and book the business. What good is all that jawing if he doesn't bring back money?

We'd laugh at a marketing chief who came up with clever slogans and promotional ideas but didn't put together a marketing campaign that moved the product. We'd snicker at a business development executive who dreamed up brilliant partnership opportunities but never actually got any of them to generate revenue. We'd jeer at a manufacturing operations guy who couldn't get the right products out the door at the right time.

Pretty ridiculous, huh? But why should we think we deserve any better if we're not taking care of business, too?

Supply chains, e-commerce, web stores, even departmental applications they're all business projects, not just technical exercises. We've got to think of them that way to understand what our users need, and why, and how to deliver it.

Otherwise we're just kidding ourselves about IT's importance to the business.

So if your CIO isn't at the table with your organisation's other top execs yes, it matters. And if IT doesn't have real clout in your company, you probably don't have to look far to find the reason.

Hayes, Computerworld US' senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Send email to Frank Hayes.

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