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CIO role: Is IT facing a leadership crisis?

Meridith Levinson | Oct. 24, 2011
David Reynolds wants to be a CIO, and the 35-year-old systems manager for the Rhode Island Blood Center may well be on his way.

"We're starting to see a definite change in businesses' expectations of their CIOs and a lack of real competency in terms of CIOs' ability to meet those needs," says Kark.

As evidence, he notes that the ways companies assess the performance of their CIOs are changing. "Some CIOs are measured on business outcomes, such as end user or end customer satisfaction, revenue growth, whether they're bringing in a new revenue stream. They're not measured on uptime or on-time delivery of projects," says Kark.

He also points to turnover Forrester has observed in its client base, which in some cases is a result of companies looking for a different type of CIO, he says.

Is IT Facing a Leadership Crisis?

Despite Forrester's grim observations, the answer to the question, Is IT facing a leadership crisis?, is a resounding no.

"The talent exists in the market," says Aaron Cowan, who heads up recruitment firm Marlin Hawk's commerce, industry and technology search practice. "I am absolutely not concerned about the pipeline drying up. The world creates the leaders it needs. I don't think we're anywhere near a crisis point."

Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of executive search firm Trilogy Search Non+Profit, agrees: "There's plenty of really talented, wonderfully capable people in IT in this country that are capable of being CIOs," he says.

Pappalardo has one concern, though. He wonders whether there are enough IT leaders today who are capable of being global CIOs. He notes that global business experience is critical now because U.S.-based companies are looking to foreign markets, like China, for business growth while consumer demand in the U.S. remains weak. However, Pappalardo is confident that executives across all functions will get the global business experience they need, and that in 10 years, lack of global business experience will no longer be a concern.

Even Kark believes that in five years, close to half of all CIOs will operate in the customer- and business-innovation-focused capacity that leading edge companies require today.

Where Will Next Generation CIOs Come From?

Most of the sources interviewed for this article agree that a solid understanding of technology remains required to succeed in this emerging CIO role. That doesn't mean aspiring CIOs need a computer science degree. Nor does it mean they have to have spent their entire careers in IT. But the CIOs of tomorrow, whether they rise up the ranks in IT or begin their careers in other business functions, need to understand how technology can help their enterprises connect with customers, grow revenue and increase market share.

Today, some executives holding CIO positions possess no IT background. Whether this trend will continue is debatable. Those who think more business people will take over the CIO role point to outsourcing and shifting demographic trends to support their positions.


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