Will an Internet Disaster Raise CIOs' Stature?

Susan Hall

Still reeling from a massive security breach, Sony CEO Howard Stringer told The Wall Street Journal that he can't guarantee the security of its video game network or any other Web system in the "bad new world" of cyber crime.


Meanwhile, a separate Journal piece questions, in light of recent breaches at companies such as Epsilon, RSA and NASDAQ, why companies cling to an out-of-date organizational chart. It pushes the position of Vasant Dhar, who heads the information systems group at New York University's Stern School of Business, that technology has become so important to business that the CIO must report directly to the CEO. Of course, CIOs have been advocating for that for a long time.


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Job Description: Chief Security Officer

The chief security officer directs the planning and implementation of enterprise IT system, business operation and facility defenses against security breaches and vulnerability issues.

The article quotes Dhar, saying:

"Some of this is just old-fashioned thinking at companies-that technology is essentially a utility. Information has become a key part of a company. Conceptually, there's really no distinction between it and a physical product." To properly protect and exploit it, he says, the chief information officer needs to be part of the top strategy team and have a seat "at the same table as the CEO."

The article reports that less than half do, while a good number report to the CFO, who increasingly is taking over responsibility for vendor selection and related projects. Others advocate a role in which the IT department supports business units in making their own technology decisions.


Meanwhile, CIOs are expected to take on more ambitious undertakings, such as helping to mine customer data for new product ideas and revenue streams, as well as help decide which customer data not to keep.


Not only are they expected to keep the trains running on time, they're expected to find new lines of business AND ensure company data and systems are secure. Yet with workers bringing in their mobile devices, CIOs increasingly are losing control in the fight for security and hackers get craftier all the time.


It's no wonder Krishnan Chatterjee, chief marketing officer for offshore IT and software development company HCL in an interview last January, referred to CIOs as "a rather beleaguered lot."


In response to the breach, Sony has added the position of chief information security officer, a role the article refers to as one of the hottest job categories in technology today. A bill before Congress would put a CISO in each federal agency.


But the question remains: Will it take a major Internet disaster for CIOs to gain that seat at the strategy table?

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