CIOs hit hugh burnout rate as companies fail to support

If you're an aspiring CIO, take heed: the professional life expectancy of the average IT chief is only two and a half years, probably the briefest of any IT group.

In fact, according to some industry observers, CIOs get burnt out professionally because they are given too many responsibilities with too little support from their companies.

"Many businesses hold their CIO responsible for both the costs and benefits of an enterprise-wide IT investment," Peter Weill, director of the MBS's Centre for Management of Information Technology, said.

"But it is impossible for CIOs to deliver on benefits because they have no control over the business re-engineering process. The high churn rate indicates business dissatisfaction and uncertainty about how to manage IT investment and who is responsible for it."

Andersen Consulting partner Graham Henry said organisations that hold CIOs responsible for the success of enterprise business systems are missing the point.

"These are enterprise-wide business systems that just happen to use some prepackaged technology. Because they are enterprise-wide, clearly the responsibility for outcomes should be at the feet of the business people."

While a number of organisations have experimented with appointing nonIT executives to the CIO position, "many have gone back to an IT person", Weill said.

"That's partly because business people have strong business orientation but don't bring a vision for the use of technology or a technical project management orientation to the post.

He added: "A lot of organisations have decided they can't expect a single individual to have the entire skillset that is necessary. So they have moved to IT councils which are generally proving a success in balancing the technical and business side with most of the weight on the business side."

IT councils typically include an organisation's CIO, the heads of its major business units and its CEO, either in proxy form or in person.

One company employing the model is Coles Myer, which convenes a monthly IT steering group meeting. Sitting around the table are CIO Jon Wood, the managing directors of its major businesses, and often CEO Dennis Eck.

"The big problems in the past have been that systems were owned by IT and not by the businesses," according to Coles Myer general manager of IT development Ian Goch, who also sits with the group.

So if the project didn't work or went wrong, it was held to be an IT problem rather than a failure of business managers to make effective use of the tools which had been placed in their hands.

Michael Coomer, CIO of National Australia Bank, agrees with the concept of an IT council but believes CIOs should be handed more power to implement changes.

"However, it is very important to select the right kind of CIO. You don't want a power player or a corporate bureaucrat who takes two years to boil the ocean."

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