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The Value of IT Leadership

Going Up?

The excuses are legion for why IT executives aren't being elevated to boards and other positions of power. They concentrate too much on speeds and feeds and not enough on strategy. They don't communicate well in the language of business. They're not famous enough. In other words, they're introverted geeks.

For all the Harvard Business Review chitchat about IT-business integration, many companies still don't buy it. In perusing the resumes of Fortune 500 board directors, you find eclectic backgrounds--mostly finance, sales, legal and general business administration, but also engineering, consulting, manufacturing and other fields. Is it even the slightest stretch to suggest that technology experts could also inhale that rarefied air? To suggest otherwise is more than a little insulting to an entire profession that has essentially driven the economy over the past decade.

Last year's Burson-Marsteller study concluded that companies with CIOs and other senior IT execs on their boards outperform their competitors, with profits averaging 6.4 percent above industry averages. It's not just a hollow statistic. A tech presence at the very top makes a big difference for one overarching reason: No single executive has more visibility across more processes than the CIO, especially as regulatory compliance, information security and disaster recovery become ever more urgent and pervasive.

As such, the best CIOs have an intimate understanding of finance, sales, production, operations, customer service/retention, procurement, supply-chain management and human resources because they must collaborate with their peers in those departments week to week. Even the CEO doesn't have the deep cross-discipline insight an effective CIO must have to succeed.

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