Could you cut it as chief executive officer? A growing chorus of US management theorists backed by a groundswell of individual anecdotes suggests that chief information officers or IT directors should not be coy about posing themselves such a question.
Captains of corporate America who have trampled on the belief that CIO stands for 'Career Is Over' include Michael Capellas, currently CEO of Compaq, previously CIO at the world's largest PC maker. Then there's Tom Thomas, chairman and CEO of Vantive, the customer relationship management supplier acquired by PeopleSoft for £384m ($580m) in January, formerly CIO of Dell, 3Com and part of food company Kraft. And don't forget Jim Barksdale, CEO of Netscape before the Web browser trailblazer was swallowed up by America Online in 1999, who used to be CIO of despatch giant Federal Express.
But doesn't all this suggest that the most successful CIO is an ex-CIO? Well, evidence from US business suggests that sitting CIOs are getting to spread their wings. Retail chain JC Penney and health products giant Johnson & Johnson have inducted their CIOs into senior executive ranks, while firms that have stopped short of outright reserving a seat on the board have widened their CIO's remit.
Patrick Zilvitis, CIO at Gillette, recently masterminded a radical makeover at the Boston-based razor giant, delivering annual savings of $200m by consolidating five business units into two. And a recent poll of global CIOs by executive recruiter Egon Zehnder International found that 75% of the 90 respondents either sat on the board or executive committee of their firms.
Certainly IT executives are at the centre of the changing business landscape. An estimated $40bn of the $52bn spent every year by companies worldwide on business re-engineering goes on IT. And the Harvard Business Review suggested in a recent issue that prospective CEOs should be time-served as CIO or in some other technology executive posting
But as the post gains seniority, CIOs are being cautioned to brace themselves for a shakeout in which only the business-savvy will survive. The onward march of the Internet as the medium of commerce demands that CIOs speak the language of their business peers. Those CIOs wedded to an exclusive view of their role as technologists will be weeded out.
This was first published in July 2000