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Does it matter who CIOs report to?

Gather the typical left-brain, articulate, umm-less group of CIOs around a conference lunch table and, guaranteed, the talk will eventually turn to reporting relationships. You answer to whom? Since when? How is that working out?

CIOs, as I take the editorial liberty of saying in my story today on, tend to scrutinize reporting lines like entrails or tea leaves- a portent of how well they’re doing and where they’re headed.

Any CIO I’ve queried on the topic thinks it’s best to have a direct line to the CEO. Makes sense. Sure, you’re turning somersaults to please the business, and likely with a polite smile on your face — who can you escalate to, if the CEO is telling you what to do? But better to have the ear of the head honcho than not.

The Forrester study of 503 IT execs by analyst Bobby Cameron pretty much bears this out.

CIOs who report to CEOs have the largest budgets, as measured in terms of percentage of total company revenue. Your job comes with a centralized planning function and so you are more likely to manage IT through centralized offices — PMOs, vendor management. But – and maybe this is a function of playing in the big leagues by big-league organizational rules – you’re a little down on IT’s ability to be a game changer for your business, unlike your counterpart who reports to the COO.

Woe to you who report to the CFO. I feel your pain, right through the measured tones of Cameron’s data-filled summary of the survey.

By the way, the CIO-to-CEO reporting relationship now constitutes the largest cohort, while the number of CIOs reporting to the CFO has shrunk over the past three years. As business becomes more appreciative – and, yes, knowledgeable – about the impact IT can have on the company, Cameron says he expects to see another shift of CIOs reporting to operations officers.

Check out the story for more details.

When I caught up with Cameron on his cell phone last night, he told me a couple of interesting anecdotes about CIOs expanding their reach. (Like most Southerners, he’s a natural story teller.) At Jet Blue, for example, the CIO owns marketing. Hewlett-Packard, for a time anyway, put the CIO in charge of supply chain. He sees the trend continuing as IT makes the transition that Forrester has been pushing for years – to BT, business technology.

Let us know to whom you report, and the plusses and minuses of that reporting relationship.

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