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Ambitious IT pros seek COO role

Beth Stackpole | March 19, 2014
With technology the cornerstone of most businesses, the lines are blurring between IT and operations -- leading some IT pros to think of COO as their title of choice.

For Duane Anderson, a CIO-plus role has always been a goal. Anderson, now CIO/COO at marketing agency Marquette Group, has had several key mentors, including Tekexec's Stanley, who blazed the trail for a broader CIO role when the pair were at Harrah's Entertainment, now Caesars. "It was part of the proving ground when I came up," Anderson says. "I didn't know that it wasn't normal."

Given that IT has become so strategic to what most companies do, Anderson says it's imperative for the CIO to report to a visionary leader like the COO or CEO, not the CFO, who tends to become too focused on IT as a cost center. "For any technology initiative to be successful, it's not just about the technology being implemented, but also about the processes around it and the people who can deliver," he explains. "That coupling of CIO/COO -- whether it's a dual role or a direct report -- helps unlock the three ingredients of people, process and technology."

When Anderson started at Marquette in June 2009, he came onboard as CIO; there was no formal COO position. After a couple of years, Anderson was recognized for driving a lot of the product direction and for identifying the business requirements that were influencing where the company should be headed, he says. The carrot, he says, was an offer to become the company's first-ever COO.

The benefits of having core IT, operations, and development and infrastructure report to a single person have been significant, Anderson says. "We now have much more streamlined requirements between operations and IT and a much closer melding of the groups now that they are under one purview," he says. "While there are still lines of demarcation, it's much grayer -- it's no longer that there's a business customer over here and the IT group over there."

For years, the goal of top CIOs has been to understand and get closer to the business, but what's different with these new reporting scenarios is that there is actual authority to get things done, adds West Monroe Partners' Chaplin. "While a CIO may understand the business side, those business folks don't report to him and he can't control how often they meet with him or what training they get," he explains. "If he's in charge, he can mandate expectations of the team and have authority over them that was previously lacking."

Having the power to make decisions across the business is what Learning Ally's Hamburger knew was essential to achieve the company's aggressive goals. Given the cost pressures and the demand to move quickly, Hamburger says there was no room for the usual roadblocks impeding IT deployments, including traditional layers of leadership.


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