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Tech experts are key to success

High-level CIO involvement has paid off for Citibank, says Heidi Sinclair.
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Technology (general)

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Putting IT experts on company boards and including them in the development of long-term strategies is integral to future business success, say experts.

Fewer than five per cent of chief information officers (CIOs) in the U.S. and less than seven per cent in Europe sit on a company board, according to a recent survey.

The role of chief information officer (CIO) took off in the 1990s. As IT systems became more complex, they required a specialist to manage them.

But technology executives suffered a backlash following the bursting of the Dot-com bubble and before that, when the much-hyped Y2K or millennium bug turned out to be non-existent after clocks switched from 1999 to 2000. At the time, the term CIO was jokingly referred to as "career is over."

Now, IT experts say their work is not valued as much as it should be, particularly by those at the top of firms. They're seen as "Mr. fix-its," instead of being key players behind company strategies.

Former tech support worker Robert Johnston quit his job to pursue a freelance career because he was tired of running around after workplace technophobes and getting very little gratitude in return.

"It's a very thankless task. You never get a 'thank you' at the end of the day. You're lucky if you get an 'okay, that worked,'" he says.

Michael Zammuto, chief technology officer of Miami-based tech firm Ecometry Corporation, says the role of CIO has a reputation for being career stopper.

"As a tech guy, where do you go from there? It's still pretty uncommon for a CIO to become a chief executive officer of a large non-technology firm."

He says it is also uncommon for an IT chief to even sit on a board, something that's backed up by a recent survey, which showed that just five per cent of U.S. companies and seven per cent of European companies have a CIO in an executive position.

"Educating the CEO and getting his attention and getting resources away from other disciplines is a real tough part of the CIO's job," says Zammuto.

"They're responsible for what technologies get implemented and how. And because the nature of technology is changing so much and is so jargon-laden, there's a lot of educating that takes place."

Heidi Sinclair, chair of the global technology practice at Burson-Marsteller, a consulting firm that carried out the research, said the study showed that companies which had a CIO on their board of directors were also the companies that had a higher return on shareholder value.

"Information technology is strategically placed at the heart of the world's major industries, running most of their critical business processes," she says.

"Yet this study shows that most of the world's largest companies are not receiving board-level strategic advice on how technology can address current and future business problems."

She said some of the world's most admired companies were transforming the business landscape by including technology experts on their boards.

"[Citibank] used technology to revolutionize banking; Schwab is an excellent example of using technology to create business model; Hewlett Packard used technology to drive the merger with Compaq. [They're] wonderful success stories where you can see technology pushing things and behind all of that is going to be a strong CIO."

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