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Why CIOs Are Important

For many start-up companies information technology is a necessary overhead expense—and that's it. The thought of adding a Chief Information Officer (CIO) to the company's management team is the farthest thing from their minds; why would they need someone to head an Information Technology (IT) group when their needs are so minimal? But today's CIO is more than just the functional head of the IT organization. He or she is a professional who specializes in the management of information, a specialty growing in importance.

Consider that the day-to-day activities of a company, regardless of size, depends on information technology: we communicate through e-mail and instant messaging, we transact business interactively and by exchanging electronic documents, we stay in touch with customers through websites and web conferences, and, as the time to react to events decreases, we expect timely information. Temporary loss of access to this technology can be disruptive, and extended downtime or permanent loss of data can become a serious business continuity issue. Moreover, as companies take advantage of new internet-based technologies such as "cloud" storage, ensuring data security—privacy, confidentiality, and protection of intellectual property/trade secrets—is a growing management concern.

Yet, business managers are ill-equipped to deal with these matters, mainly because they are not aware of them until they become an issue. This is particularly true of start-ups, whose tight budgets lead them to constrain IT spending to the problems of the present, only to learn that start-ups get larger and quickly outgrow the "small company" technology that looked so financially attractive at the outset, but turned out not to be scaleable and to impede further growth.

For these reasons, access to a knowledgeable and experienced CIO or equivalent—someone who knows the subject matter, can recognize the issues and pitfalls, and deal with them before they become a problem—is highly valuable to companies of any size.