Who's ready to run with IT's multi-tasking baton?

Raise your hand if you're tired of the perpetual debate about how important the CIO role is to the business. (I'm picturing a veritable sea of hands out there.) I know I'm beyond bored with discussions about who's got a "seat at the table" and who doesn't. I don't care if the CIO reports to the chief executive or to the CFO. And I've lost all interest in whether the top IT exec rose up through the programmer ranks or hopped a cubicle wall from the business side.

What's far more interesting are the ramifications of the expanding responsibilities of CIOs and other IT leaders. Across many industries, they're playing key roles in business process analysis, change management, regulatory compliance, product development and business project management. The evidence is mostly anecdotal, but it's a lot more compelling -- and believable -- than some survey or analyst report.

Today's CIO is just as likely to be involved in merger and acquisition discussions and new-product development meetings as the CFO or COO, says John Moon, CIO at Baxter International.

And we know from talking to CIOs that there's a lot wandering outside the traditional boundaries of IT.

For example, at $US13 billion Humana, CIO Bruce Goodman steps into a sales role when pitching investment analysts about IT's enabling role in the changing health care business. At The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, CIO Jeff Campbell is helping to re-engineer the way the railroad moves freight across 53,000 kilometres of track. In the future, he predicts, "IT leaders will be well-respected, well-grounded business people who happen to have a second discipline called technology."

This shift in roles and responsibilities isn't limited to CIOs at large enterprises, either.

"The role of CIOs and other IT executives is changing (or should be changing) in many organizations to reflect our increasing reliance upon digital information for business purposes and for transactions that have profound legal and regulatory ramifications," say Randolph Kahn and Barclay Blair in their new book, Information Nation: Seven Keys to Information Management Compliance (AIIM, 2004). They argue convincingly that the job of managing information has irrevocably changed, sitting as it does now at the confluence of law, technology and business practices.

Whatever their backgrounds, it's clear that top IT execs must juggle more complex, diverse and highly scrutinized tasks than any other corporate officers in history. Their roles now touch suppliers, customers and relationships across multiple corporate functions. For some, this will end up as multitasking run amok, spinning off pieces of the CIO job as it becomes too much for one person to handle. We've already seen the rise of chief information security officers and the resurgence of chief privacy officers. Up next will surely be chief process officers and chief compliance officers.

Raise your hand if you're ready to rise to the occasion.

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