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CIO Jury: Have IT bosses lost control?

And are general business managers now calling the shots?

The big-spending years of Y2K and the dot-com boom have taken their toll on some corporate IT departments with other board members leaping on these supposed failures to undermine the IT director and rein in tech spending.

For many, that has seen a more sensible and productive balance between 'the business' side of the organisation and 'IT' but one head of IT at a recent conference declared that the balance of power has swung too far away from CIOs and IT directors.

Silicon.com asked its CIO Jury user panel recently if control of IT spending and decisions has indeed swung too far into the hands of the boardroom and general business managers, and the answer was a resounding "no". Only one of the 12 respondents said IT has lost too much control.

Andy Harper, head of information systems at United Utilities North West, said while the balance has not shifted too far IT still needs to complete the journey from being seen as a support function to being central to the business' success.

"To make this step, CIOs and heads of IT need to demystify technology for the board and build their awareness of the potential impacts of technology. The trick will be to build that understanding and buy in whilst retaining operational control of IT with the CIO," he said.

Tougher regulatory requirements have also had an impact in forcing the business executives to take IT more seriously, according to Graham Yellowley, Mitsubishi Securities International.

"Increasing regulatory requirements such as Sarbanes-Oxley make a change in overall IT governance a mandatory necessity. This does not mean that IT gives up control of IT but that IT has to produce strong processes in which it fully participates, so that IT can be well governed," he said.

Both Davesh Shukla, London City Airport and Chris Broad, head of IT at the UKAEA, agreed that CIOs should be involved in business strategy while retaining control over the technology that then underpins it.

"The business must direct without getting involved in the technology. The business says 'why' something needs doing, the 'what' is agreed jointly and the 'how' is down to IT," said Broad.

But Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO, Manpower, said any shift in the balance of power is down to the individual and that the good CIOs and IT directors will earn credibility and respect from their boardroom colleagues.

"Influence and control lies with the successful people that deliver. It is not owned by functions but by leaders with a track record of success," he said.

Silicon.com's Andy McCue reported from London.