Are CIOs being headhunted as businesses invest in IT for change?

Businesses are now looking to IT to enable them to do things differently rather than just as a means of doing things more efficiently, and CIOs with particular skills and experience are becoming sought after as a result .

Businesses are now looking to IT to enable them to do things differently rather than just as a means of doing things more efficiently, and CIOs with particular skills and experience are becoming sought after as a result .

During the recent economic downturn, corporate boardrooms have been striving to use technology to help them reduce and control costs. But now that growth is returning, albeit slowly, businesses want to introduce technology that will change the business. This will include new business models.

CIOs driving change

Nick Kirkland, who heads up CIO membership organisation CIO Connect, which has 2,500 CIO members, says headhunters are becoming more active in the CIO network as businesses consider changing their IT hierarchy.

"If businesses care about who their CIO is it means they want to do things differently," he said. "Executives are now looking for growth and they need CIOs who can get the right IT systems in place to support this."

He says CIOs are motivated by the excitement of a job: "They want to be involved in innovative and exciting IT and would rather be the CIO of a big company than the CEO of a small one."

David Bloxham, director at recruitment firm GCS, says it is seeing more activity in all areas of IT recruitment, but agrees that senior IT professionals are in particularly high demand: "Businesses are going in new directions and need to recruit senior IT professionals to support this."

He says many senior IT staff lost their jobs during the recent cuts as companies chose to retain the workers that directly support systems. "To continue to run your IT systems you need the guys that do the technology. A lot of the people who lost their jobs were IT management and senior IT workers."

Bloxham adds that the technology strategy of businesses is important if they are going to attract the right IT leaders. "It is not just about the size of the company, but also the technology roadmap. People want a challenge."

He says cloud computing, mobile technology and business intelligence initiatives are attractive areas to work in.

Specialised skills in demand

Rob Grimsey, marketing director at recruitment firm Harvey Nash, says CIOs with very specific skills are in demand. "During the economic slowdown the turnover of CIOs was non-existent. It is still relatively low, but there is demand for CIOs with certain skills."

He says mobile computing, iPad management, cloud computing and social media are examples of skills in demand, adding that salaries for CIOs with these skills are rising the fastest, by up to 20%.

James Martin, former IT COO Europe at Lehmans, says there was a flurry of activity in the financial services sector earlier this year, and points out that the banking sector is usually a bit ahead of other sectors. "I received a lot of calls from headhunters in March, but this is probably related to the banks' financial years ending," he added.

He believes the IT sector in general is picking up, which is likely to lead to businesses requiring new senior IT staff to drive projects. "It feels like we are entering a new phase of technology excitement and investment."

According to Harvey Nash, CIOs are emerging from the downturn with more responsibility and a louder voice in their organisations. The recruitment company says the role of the CIO is becoming increasingly differentiated between those who see their job as driving innovation and those who focus on keeping the business running.

The IT sector is buzzing as the early signs of recovery have brought confidence to businesses across sectors. But recovery brings with it new challenges such as what IT will support new business strategies. As a result senior IT professionals with the right experience could increasingly be at the top of corporate shopping lists.

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Photo: Rex Features

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