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CIOs take over C-suite

AFR | Feb. 25, 2013
The digital revolution has propelled CIOs into the CEO’s realm as companies realise that they have to embrace innovation if they are to survive.

But mapping out the interplay of technology leadership roles isn't always simple. To this end, Egon Zehnder pushes what it calls "the critical triangle" of chief executive, CIO and the more recently minted "chief digital officer", whose job is usually to develop online strategy and vision.

Australian executive talent spotters readily acknowledge the imperative that the big digital upheaval has foisted on organisations, but are cautious about pigeonholing specific technology roles and titles.

"There's a closer proximity to the customer," says EWK International senior partner Marianne Broadbent, who more than a decade ago wrote a seminal PhD on the alignment of business and technology strategy in major Australian banks.

Broadbent says that she's never been "especially hung-up" on specific names for senior technology jobs because "increasingly, organisations use titles that are relevant to that organisation".

"Titles vary, I think that is a very good thing," she says, adding that this allows technology executives to be "of the organisation".

"The big issue is around the impact of consumer technologies on business and how businesses utilise those in their own offerings - and social media", Broadbent says.

Those factors are "making a huge difference to the expectations of business and government leaders and therefore those who lead and manage the IT function".

Put simply, employees and customers who can easily use their own personal devices for both work and play expect corporate and government systems to provide a similarly smooth user experience.

Not everyone likes the trend, especially security practitioners. They have pejoratively retitled "Bring you own device" to "Bring your own disaster" and view the self-shopping trend as a major challenge and headache for their preferred pursuit of locking-down devices. Just think BlackBerry versus iPhones and iPads.

Beyond this immediate friction, Broadbent contends that the wider cultural shift to embrace consumer culture is breeding a more proactive management style, one that naturally extends itself to improving how organisations deal with external customers and clients.

"That [has an impact on] what kind of products and services an organisation might offer," Broadbent says.

"It means that those in technology have a much shorter leash in terms of a connection to consumers.

"That is what they do. They connect to consumers, full stop."

Robertson Executive Search partner Paul Rush believes that digital disruption could well unseat existing CIOs and technology leaders - but not necessarily in a bad way.

"It's highly likely that the pool of future CEOs would come from the CIO and technology leader space," Rush says.

The move is not without precedent given the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's previous selection of Ralph Norris, a former code-cutter, as chief executive.

Norris's tenure saw him sign off on an organisation-wide technology transformation, which included the recruitment of technology chief Michael Harte.


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