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CIOs boost their careers doing double duty

Julia King | Sept. 1, 2015
Many CIOs find it exhilarating to take on business functions outside of IT. But CIO-plus roles require a new mindset and trusted deputies.

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After stints as a CIO at three different companies, Elizabeth Hackenson was, well, a little bored. As CIO at The AES Corp., a $17 billion global power company, she had surrounded herself with a formidable team and had no desire to micromanage them. She longed to “let go a little.”

In search of more and bigger challenges, Hackenson approached her CEO and listed the groups and responsibilities that interested her.

She got what she asked for and more. Today, as CIO and senior vice president of technology and services, Hackenson oversees IT, cybersecurity, corporate services, the internal audit group, the global insurance group and a new energy business that includes a rooftop solar company.

“A lot of what’s been moved under me is stuff where you need strong relationships rather than command and control. It’s more about influence,” Hackenson says.

An emphasis on relationships and relationship-building is a common theme for executives with dual titles and so-called CIO-plus responsibilities. The primary reason is that IT increasingly permeates everything companies do. As technology is woven further into the overall business strategy, CIO roles--and titles--are expanding.

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Stephan Voss.Elizabeth Hackenson, CIO and senior vice president of technology and services at AES, and has taken on several non-IT functions, so she relies on her deputy CIO, Hugo Vasquez, to handle the bulk of IT responsibilities

This expansion of duties has its benefits and practical challenges. IT already is tied to every single part of a business. As a result, technology executives have a keen horizontal perspective of all of a company’s business processes. From that unique perch, they can more readily identify business stumbling blocks and innovate process improvements that increase business value.

“The CIO is one of the few people in an organization who sees all the processes from cradle to grave and truly has an expansive point of view. That lends itself to leading other parts of the organization,” says Peter High, president of CIO advisory firm Metis Strategy and author of the book Implementing World Class IT.

It’s also economically advantageous, especially for small and midsize companies. “Having people do two jobs and not paying them double seems like a good idea to a lot of organizations,” High says.

Moreover, IT departments on the whole are shrinking, as companies increasingly turn to outside providers of software and services. This makes IT less labor-intensive to manage, freeing up CIOs to pursue other business and career interests.

Yet CIOs with dual titles and non-IT duties are not new. IT executives have been venturing beyond the traditional technology domain for at least a decade, playing key roles in activities such as performing due diligence before mergers and acquisitions, managing the supply chain, and developing new products and services.


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