Brit CIOs bottom of IT pile

If you don't start being nicer to your chief IT geek, you could find yourself way behind the times...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

According to a new survey, UK businesses risk being blindsided by new technology because less than half our CIOs sit on the board. The research, which covers 520 companies across Europe, claims that with only 48% of the nation’s top IT execs getting invited to board meetings, the UK is bottom of the European IT league. Kings of the tech hill are CIOs in France, where 69% have a seat at the top table. Such a low level of strategic representation means that British firms are at serious risk of not spotting the advantages of up-and-coming technologies until it’s too late, says the report’s author, IT infrastructure specialists Progress Software.

Of course there’s nothing new in the idea that directors from the sales, marketing and finance departments – i.e. the operational side of things – don’t always take kindly to the idea of having to share the glory of running the firm with someone from what they frequently regard as a support function. Especially when it’s one who speaks almost exclusively in TLAs (three letter acronyms) and doesn’t generate any income, to boot.

That said, relations between IT and the rest of the business have improved a lot in recent years, thanks to the relentless rise of things like the internet and the iPod, innovations which even the most technologically-challenged MD can see and appreciate. But there’s clearly a way to go yet. 'IT should be at the centre of any business strategy,' says Progress CTO Giles Nelson. ‘But over half of UK businesses are leaving those that best understand technology’s potential out of the decision making process.'

The nurturing of potentially important technological innovation is also hampered, says the report, by the fact that CIOs are very rarely invited to contribute to the strategic debate until after all the big decisions have been taken. Only 13% of companies in the survey offered IT the kind of ‘sign-off’ status on strategy routinely given to other departments.

Coming as it does the day before the 60th birthday of the world’s first programmable electronic computer, invented at Manchester University, the timing of this study is somewhat ironic. The one-ton machine – nicknamed Baby, because by the standards of the day it was so small – was a giant leap forward, solving maths problems in a week or two that would have taken months by hand. It sounds laughable today but Baby was the direct forerunner of all the whizzy technologies we now take for granted that make modern life so, well, modern.

Of course, it’s pointless now to lament the fact that despite this early lead the UK never made any impression on the computer manufacturing business. But if companies can improve the flow of ideas and information between IT and the commercial side of the business, they will be at least be better placed to make the most of the next big thing that comes along. So hug a geek, today.

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