It seems that as time goes by, more CIOs want to shrug off the CIO mantle and many still say they want the office of CEO. Certainly most CIOs have been expanding their responsibilities outside of a pure technology remit for several years.

Last year IBM’s Global CEO Study concluded that business leaders should make four changes to enable CIOs and their IT organisations to make a stronger contribution to the business.

  • Measurement: Reward CIOs for contributing to growth, innovation, and people. System reliability and cost management are only one half of the equation.
  • Strategy: Engage CIOs early on in the strategy process. Technology can often inform what’s possible for the business.
  • Organisation: Help CIOs undertake process transformation and give them a mandate to create organisational readiness for IT. Promote partnership with the line of business, overcome resistance to change, and drive the concept of “IT savvy.”
  • Talent: Give CIOs opportunities to develop broad skills and leadership competencies.

Yet in Harvey Nash’s annual CIO survey this year, more than 600 UK IT leaders said their role is becoming less rather than more strategic; and more than half thought they’d be out of a job within two years. The survey also found that half of their CEOs viewed IT as a support function and therefore didn’t believe the CIO needed a seat on the board.

And a third survey, this time from The Conference Board of 769 CEOs worldwide, said that the top challenge to their CIOs was getting “excellence of execution” and their third greatest concern was “keeping consistent execution of strategy by senior IT management.”

Jon Ardron, group director, BGL Group
I want to know how can we – CEOs – do more. CIOs spend more time worrying about how, whereas CEOs tend to worry about what or who.

For me, it was change in business climate and perseverance. The actual change point was a result of bloody-minded persistence. The CIO at Thomas Cook was on the main board, and during the mid-90s there was a change in strategy.

I became MD of ebusiness, and there was a massive change in the retail focus. You have to believe and go for it. For me it was just about expanding the role, and after much nagging the attitude was ‘well you do it then’.

MBAs help because they offer a credible path, and give a big signal to the business. They are being actively looked for now, and indicate that you have more to add, and can be a sign of ambition. From my perspective it certainly helped me not just to understand the theory but also to feel more at home with the jargon and more comfortable at board level.

Adrian Bagg, CEO, The Papworth Trust
CEOs know the buck stops with them. Sales and income are a little more front of mind when you are a CEO. You clearly need to think about having the money to fund IT, so you have to understand the real value of what you get from technology.

The move to CEO wasn’t so traumatic for me, and although the CIO bit is now dormant, that focus is still there. Working at Papworth is a combination of CEO and charity, and involves both responsibility and risk, and it makes a difference.

Moving to a business management role was a natural progression. It was something exciting, challenging and new. I wanted to move on to what was next. I know what motivates me, and wanted to take some risks with what I was doing personally.

It is critical that all the teams, including IT, should get out and see customers. I believe in testing with consumers. All teams should get out and see the customers and services, so they can look at things from a customer perspective.

But getting external proof of being ready to move on is an important element as well so taking non-executive roles help, and are external proof that you are a serious CEO contender.

Mark Hodgkinson, former CEO, Virgin Money
CEOs want to know what technology can do for the business. I don’t want to hear I can’t do it. I want enlightenment. Technology is so key that it has to be involved in my business strategy.

It is up to the individual to reach the point where they are ready for the change. Sometimes you have to drive it yourself. It could be as the MD of the IT service. It involves setting up your own part of the business and then going after it. All CEOs are different, but CIOs bring more discipline and process to the party, and more ordered delivery, which influences strategy.

Customer relationships can be key to career progression, but there are differences between a CIO’s customer relationships, and the work CEOs do with customers. CIOs need to focus on customers, but it is not suddenly something that CEOs should do. As CEO, you have to involve the business units – at Virgin any ivory tower behaviour was stopped, and all of us were focused on the same thing, and talking the same language.

The CEOs featured in this article were speaking at a New Thought Leadership event at the RAC Club in London in October 2007. Organised by La Fosse Associates and sponsored by The Sunday Times, it was attended by more than 80 leading CIOs.