It was only about three years ago that the CTO of Merrill Lynch was named to the firm's executive board, signaling the growing importance of technology to the business of financial services. The move to place Wall Street's tech gurus on these boards quickly became an industry-wide trend. Despite the dot.com bust, the importance of technology prevailed on Wall Street, as did the rising stature of the CIO.
Not only have CIOs been conversing openly with CEOs and executive boards, they've gained many other new friends.
Two years ago, they became the "right-hand men" to Wall Street's heads of business-continuity planning in response to Sept. 11. Around the same time, they started spending a lot of time with the CFO when cost cutting and return on investment became the industry's top initiatives.
Now, it's the compliance officer who needs a CIO to lean on. Who will be next?
Whether buy side or sell side, custodian bank or service provider, the internal workings of an organization are constantly going through new cycles. Through all of this change, one thing will remain constant, and that is the importance of the CIO as a trusted and essential partner.
You'd be hard pressed to find a department on Wall Street where technology isn't critical. It's hard to discern whose 911 call the CIO will answer next, but you can be well assured it will be another C-level executive once a new trend emerges.
Eventually, each business-unit head will have to become its own CIO - by that I mean a person who can run that particular business as well as its underlying technology.
It's already happening to some degree.
As important as it is to train your firm's technology team on business issues, it will be equally important to train your business leaders in the ways of technology.
Already many financial-services firms have increased the number of CTOs they have. A CIO can only be spread so thin - he or she needs some assistance.
The first step may be a CTO/business-unit partnership, but eventually technology management will become a prerequisite for business-unit leadership. When that day comes, there will still be a need for the enterprise-wide coordinator of the firm's technology - a leader to turn to when the big-picture vision is needed or complications arise. So, it seems clear that the CIOs' vision will always be essential, and they will remain an important person to lean on.