British and European CIOs are upbeat and seizing the opportunities the worldwide recession is throwing at them, the latest Harvey Nash IT Leadership Survey reveals. The survey, produced in association with PA Consulting Group, polled 1345 CIOs from across Europe. CIOs are under extreme pressure to deliver more with decreasing budgets, but the 55-page report paints a picture of a CIO community that is leading by example and still finding ways to innovate.

Chief executives and boards like to hear of solutions, not problems, and CIOs across Europe are using the recession to challenge their organisations with the adoption of agile working practices or new technology that reduces costs, recruitment specialists Harvey Nash believe. Analysing the results of their survey, the London based company said, "IT leaders are being bolder, using lack of cash as a catalyst to stimulate fundamental change in their business". Harvey Nash believe the overall sentiment of CIOs is structured change that focuses on recovery and is in no way a panic about reduced revenues.

The survey, which is released generally on Thursday, reveals that CIOs are leading by example and reassuring not only their teams, but also the entire organisation. Perhaps as a result, more CIOs in the 2009 Harvey Nash survey felt their role was becoming increasingly strategic, which reflects the maturing business view of IT as a provider of solutions in difficult times.

Reflecting the changed attitude towards IT, less than half of the respondents reported a decline in their budget in the last 12 months, although when compared to last year's survey, where 17 per cent of respondents saw a decline, 42 per cent this year have reported a budget cut. Interestingly, 25 per cent said their budgets had increased. When asked if they expect their budgets to be reduced over the forthcoming 12 months, 48 per cent are anticipating a further reduction. There is also a small group, 18 per cent, who expect an increase.

PA Consulting sees three different scenarios facing the CIO, depending on the state of their organisation and the market it is in. Those organisations with stable budgets are lucky to be operating in a business-as-usual mode, while companies with budget problems are either drastically reducing headcount and deferring IT projects, or bravely striking out on a new course using the recession as a vehicle for change. Cuts to staff and project deferment is the most prevalent scenario PA Consulting sees and it puts this down to many of the organisations being hit by this recession as being unaccustomed to the current market conditions after a decade of growth.

CIOs are concerned about causing long-term damage to their teams by making drastic cuts in headcount. Harvey Nash found that 67 per cent were concerned a "skills shortage would have a negative impact on their business", an increase from 61 per cent with the same concern last year.

The fear of damaging the IT team through drastic job cuts is held throughout Europe, with 54 per cent of CIOs reporting that headcount cuts were having an impact on their organisations. Project delivery and business analysis skills are still in demand by 43 per cent and 40 per cent of respondents respectively. British CIOs are less inclined than their European peers for staff to fill gaps.

CIOs across Europe are increasingly reporting to the chief financial officer (CFO). Just 30 per cent of those surveyed reported directly to the chief executive, a drop of six per cent from last year. Harvey Nash believe this is a recession-related trend as the CFO's importance is highlighted in the current economy. Less than half of the survey's respondents report to the board, the same figure as last year.

Appraising their teams, CIOs are still on the look-out for staff that can align with the business and deliver value from the IT investments available. Rating the most important skills in their IT team, 67 per cent said building and maintaining relationships with the business was the most important skill set, followed by 57 per cent prioritising managing and prioritising demand from the business and 40 per cent identifying managing and prioritising IT projects.

With these skills in mind, most CIOs responding to the survey are worried about their being a skills shortage when the economy begins to recover. Over half of those surveyed said their organisation is suffering as a result of skills shortage, a drop from 71 per cent last year, but indicative of a continued lack of business focused workers in the IT industry. Most expected the impact of a skills shortage to be greater than in the last 12 months. CIOs have, as a result, changed their views on skilled migration. Asked if they "believe skilled migration from abroad can help fill your skills gap", 54 per cent responded positively, down from 72 per cent in 2008.

Outsourcing and offshoring remain strategic objectives for organisations, with 76 per cent of those polled planning to retain their current levels or increase outsourcing. Success rates remain mixed, four in ten projects, according to Harvey Nash, are not achieving the demands of CIOs. Outsourcing is being used for software application development by 59 per cent of CIOs surveyed and infrastructure development by 58 per cent. Maintenance of applications has been outsourced by 47 per cent and systems integration has gone out of house in 23 per cent of organisations polled. Spending on outsourcing has increased, and in 52 per cent of cases it has risen by 10 per cent when compared to 2008. A third are looking to increase their spending on outsourcing over the next year, which is down on the expectations of CIOs last year.

Last year most CIOs cited meeting the needs of the business as their main reason behind outsourcing; this year cost reduction is the top reason for 38 per cent of respondents, with 31 per cent still claiming business needs as their main reason.

CIOs are being called upon by their organisations to use IT in innovative ways. Harvey Nash found that 86 per cent of those surveyed were being asked to use IT to boost the competitive abilities of the company. Over half of the CIOs surveyed said IT vendors were their favoured partners for innovation, but collaborating with customers is on the rise for innovative ideas, with 29 per cent citing their customers. Eight per cent of a CIO's budget is being invested into innovative ideas by 35 per cent of the CIOs responding to the survey, down from 42 per cent in 2008, but not a significant drop. Just over a quarter, 27 per cent, are reporting a 10 per cent RoI on their innovations and 61 per cent are reporting an RoI of five per cent.

The recession is unsurprisingly dampening the CIO's urge to change job, with 80 per cent of the survey respondents saying they were satisfied with their current remuneration and 60 per cent saying they were earning salaries of over €100,000.

Asked about which leadership skills they consider to be the most important in the downturn, 76 per cent cite communications skills, 67 per cent leadership, 52 per cent strategy and 44 per cent commercial awareness, which really indicates the business focussed role of the European CIO.

You can download the full report from Harvey Nash here: