The Teflon Tech Exec: Despite Down Economy, CIOs Feel Secure


There's good news for CIOs in a recent SearchCIO.com survey of tech executives and IT managers. Sixty-seven percent of respondents don't appear concerned about losing their jobs in the down economy. Twenty-three percent say they are very confident and 44 percent say they are mostly confident that their jobs are secure. And 43 percent of respondents say they are more likely now than they were last year to leave their jobs for a better-paying position.


Several experts interviewed by SearchCIO.com attribute these feelings to the CIO role enjoying a more positive perception among other executives. Companies increasingly value CIOs for their ability to re-engineer business processes, says Shawn Banerji, a member of the technology practice at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. In contrast to the economic downturn that followed the dot-com bust, when IT was largely viewed as an inefficient cost center, Banerji says there is now "a greater appreciation" of what IT can accomplish.


CIOs are surely cognizant of this, which is perhaps why tech execs asked in late 2007 to list their priorities for the coming year offered a mix of operational and more transformational goals. A big chunk of those CIOs, 51 percent, described themselves as a "transformational leader," whose responsibilities include redesigning business processes, melding IT with business needs and experimenting with new architectures.


Thirty-seven percent saw themselves as "function heads" whose duties include managing IT projects, developing talent and improving operations. The smallest group of respondents, 12 percent, said they were "business strategists" who are focused on customer insight and business innovation.


What are companies seeking in their tech execs? The folks interviewed in the SearchCIO.com article offered opinions that reminded me of a recent strategy+business article that offered the term "practical visionary" to describe CIOs who build upon a solid operational foundation to offer strategic business value.


One of my coworkers disliked the term because it paired "an ambiguous noun with an antithetical adjective" and because he feels it demonstrates IT's tendency to overvalue itself. His comment: "I just don't see what's visionary about sitting in on business channel talks."


Me? I thought it was a bit heavy on the hyperbole, but actually wasn't a half-bad effort to describe the tricky blend of skills that companies want from their CIOs. What do you think?