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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.

CIOs take over C-suite

An advocate for fresh thinking at the top . . . Paul Rush from Robertson Search.  Photo: Tamara Voinski

When it comes to having a boardroom identity crisis, few corporate functions do it better than those charged with running technology. Once a largely technical function on the sidelines of the operation's division of the "org-charts" that defined a leadership pecking order, the mantle of technology leader is again at the crossroads, thanks to the ruthless rise of online commerce, cloud computing and social media.

A decade ago, most companies were content to have a chief information officer sitting on their senior executive committee to guide systems procurement and overhauls.

That was until the massive disruption wrought by customers and employees clutching their nearly ubiquitous smartphones (that buy as well as tweet).

The upheaval challenged formerly safe business models, putting balance sheets and IT leadership roles into flux.

It's not hard to see why many boards of established companies are scratching their heads.

Main-street retail businesses, ranging from banks to bookshops to whitegoods, have been forced to recalibrate their expectations and strategy around their technology functions and what these must deliver - just to stay in business.

A vivid illustration of the technology leadership tussles now being played out is the response of senior executive head hunters to whom "C-suite" turnover represents a valuable opportunity to place talent in an otherwise subdued economic climate.

Global search firm Egon Zehnder International, best known for hunting out chief executives, has entered the digital fray and is advising clients - especially the bosses of more traditional, well- established businesses - that they have to provide the right environment for technology talent to thrive if they want to survive in the new economy.

That includes demonstrating to the tech-based candidate pool that there is a genuine opportunity to succeed, a clear mandate for change, organisational support, a sufficient budget and a career path.

"One thing that's certainly true of the CIO, and true generally, is that technology is no longer an ancillary support function," says Egon Zehnder technology consultant Lindsay Trout, who is based in Palo Alto, California.

Trout believes a big part of that change has been necessitated by investment in technology shifting from being a background operational function to a front-end one that is crucial to a company's survival and growth.

"Technology is so much more a part of companies linking to the marketplace today, so the imperative is not only on driving the bottom line on process and efficiencies, but driving the top line," she says.


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