The chief information officer (CIO) is the executive officer of a business or organization who is responsible for managing the data, systems, and personnel involved with information systems (IS). The CIO position is typically accorded a rank of senior vice president or executive vice president and often reports to the president or CEO. This person must not only be able to understand the management of complex computers and information systems but also find and apply new technologies and equipment as they are developed. In addition the CIO must act as a liaison between the IS department and the other executive officers.

The position of CIO came of age in recent decades as the use of computer technology has grown in the work place. Before the widespread use of computers, the tasks of the CIO either didn't exist or were more likely handled by a chief of operations or the chief financial officer, as is sometimes still the case in companies that have not elevated an information technology manager to the level of senior corporate officer. Between 1995 and 1997 alone, according to figures published in the trade journal CIO, the number of CIOs reporting directly to the chief executive surged from 23 percent to 57 percent.

In the 1960s and 1970s when information systems were just beginning to be a major part of business, the CIO was usually a technologically trained executive who had risen from the ranks of the information systems department. He or she held a strictly technical expertise and other officers and managers relied on his or her expertise when it came to MIS decisions and questions.

In the 1980s the role of CIO was seen as more strategic to the business as a whole. The ideal CIO was thought to be someone who understood the business thoroughly, had a big-picture attitude, and could easily communicate with his or her peers. This meant that in some cases a CIO had little or no IS experience.

In the 1990s, the CIO position evolved further toward balancing the requirements of understanding the technology itself versus understanding the business requirements for technology. Chief executive officers sought people who could assimilate the best of both worlds—that is, individuals with firm technical IS backgrounds and strong managerial and strategic skills as well. Among the skills required were

  1. the ability to identify and implement new technology solutions, often as part of a broader efficiency or cost containment strategy
  2. the ability to work with other corporate leaders to determine an integrated strategy for the business's technology resources
  3. the ability to manage the technology staffs and resources in the most cost-efficient manner

Such objectives make the position of CIO highly challenging and are credited with contributing to the relatively high turnover rate among CIOs in the 1990s. Indeed, a study suggested that CIOs have a higher mortality rate than most other executives due in part to the stress from their jobs. Perhaps the biggest obstacle CIOs face is partnering effectively with executives from functional areas of the business—the end users of information technology. Some executives perceive the role of CIO narrowly to include the acquisition and maintenance of technology, but they fail to recognize the CIO's need to thoroughly understand how information systems are used currently and how they might be better used. In the absence of a strong and well-connected CIO, information technology and its management can become disjointed from the needs of the end users, leading to inefficiencies and lost opportunities to improve the business.

The path to becoming a CIO is not a clear one, and, once attained, a CIO position is not an easy one to maintain. The rewards, however, are great for those who do achieve CIO positions. According to an annual survey by Computerworld magazine, as of 1997 chief information officers received an average yearly salary of $123,000. More striking, this average is low compared to potential earnings at major companies, which sometimes pay $500,000 or more to their top information executives.

SEE ALSO : Information Management and Processing ; Information Technology ; Management Information Systems


Boar, Bernhard H. Strategic Thinking for Information Technology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Gibbons Paul. Lauren. "The Realm of Possibilities." CIO, 15 July 1998, 34.

Moad, Jeff. "Wanted: The Multithreaded CIO." Datanation, 15 April 1994, 34-38.

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