Jose Ruggero, a vice-president with research firm Gartner, had an apt description for the fluctuating role of chief information officers: "Today and tomorrow's CIO must lead like a chief executive, analyse like a CFO and execute like a COO."
Are CIOs now expected to be the all-in-one executive with skills from a breadth of lateral disciplines? Even Houdini had it easy in comparison and Ruggero hit the nail on the head when he said: "It's the hardest job in a large organisation."
Ruggero believes organisations must rebuild the CIO role towards "greater governance and business engagement".
The analyst is not alone in his thinking and there are clear signs this fundamental shift is already happening. In my discussion with Steve Redman, EMC Australia's managing director, he recalled an event which saw the gathering of 15 top CIOs. A random poll was conducted to gauge their backgrounds. The result -- 11 were from non-IT roles, mainly in general management and CFO positions.
"Three years ago, it would have been the other way around," Redman said.
Does this mean CIOs as we know them will cease to exist? Perhaps, says Forrester Research, which predicts that in future, an organisation could have a CFO in charge of technology procurement, a CTO to head R&D, a COO leading applications and services and a VP of technical operations to handle the day-to-day running of IT.
However, EMC's Redman feels the role of a CIO will not vanish, while Gartner's research director Andy Rowsell-Jones feels it will merely be reinvented.
"On the one hand, we see a high-profile executive role, as CIOs work on the demand side with the business. On the other, we see the industrialisation of the IT world. It has become standardised and packaged.
"Running IT services has become far more transaction-based, as if it has moved from brain surgery to producing soccer balls. Software for something as complex as a global supply chain is now coming out of a box -- literally," Jones said.
But in a recent ZDNet Australia poll, more than 80 percent of respondents said that by 2005, CIOs will become non-existent, IT budgets will be managed by the CFO and technology decisions made by IT managers.
This is a crucial issue as it affects every tech manager aspiring to climb the ladder of success. Job designations may come and go but one golden rule remains: any executive who can break the inner sanctum of corporate boardrooms, and win the hearts and minds of senior management, has won half the battle.
Fran Foo is features editor for ZDNet Australia.