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Most chief information officers expect “significant change” in the next three years as they replace generic IT with solutions that drive business and growth. That’s the message from two just released worldwide surveys examining the role of technology in enterprise strategies.

A division of Stamford, CT-based Gartner Inc., a research and advisory firm, prepared one report and the Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) Council in Palo Alto, CA prepared the second. Both evaluated corporate preferences for media consumption and technology solutions–and both warned that technology often still falls short of expectations.

Eighty-five percent of the CIOs responding predict technology will take on an increasingly critical role as a key component of business strategy, according to a survey of 1,500 CIOs by Gartner EXP, a membership-based organization of more than 3,600 CIOs worldwide.

Mark McDonald, group vice president and head of research for Gartner EXP, says the challenge for CIOs is meeting the rising expectations of corporate executives. CIOs recognize the importance of IT in changing business processes, attracting customers and developing new products and services, he explains, but many lack confidence about providing the desired results.

Most technology vendors overestimate their effectiveness in addressing customer needs, leaving a majority of customers feeling ignored and trapped in vendor relationships that are marred by broken promises, the CMO report explains. The study, Profitability from Customer Affinity, encourages technology vendors to make major customer-centric changes to better address customer needs. Less than 7% of more than 1,000 leading B2B technology buyers, IT marketing and customer relationship executives and their channel partners rate their tech vendors as well-aligned with their needs. That’s creating pressures for CIOs, who are struggling to balance the corporate demand for better technology with industry realities.

“Momentum has been building for IT to play a larger role,” McDonald states. “CIOs are now expected to deliver the solutions that make the enterprise different in a way that matters to company performance and customer satisfaction. That is a tall order, requiring CIOs to think differently about their role in 2008 and beyond.”

The Gartner EXP CIO report Making the Difference: The 2008 CIO Agenda represents insights from CIOs at more than 1,450 enterprises in 33 countries and 23 industries. The consistent message, from industry to industry, is that top executives expect IT to make a difference in their operations rather than simply deliver generic solutions.

“Making the difference involves taking on additional technical risk and cost, a departure from past CIO strategies that concentrated on managing these factors. CIOs will need to become more tolerant of risk and innovation and flexible to meet changing market and customer demands,” McDonald says.

Only 27% of CIOs believe they have enough staff to meet their needs, especially as businesses increase investments in Web 2.0 and social computing. “Every company is entering a world rich with information and personal expression. Web 2.0 and social computing provide tools to capture both and turn them into customer insight, engagement and retention,” McDonald adds.

IT budgets will increase an average of 3.3% in 2008, up slightly from 2007, CIOs estimate. But budgets will climb as much as 4.9% at businesses willing to invest in IT that delivers distinctive solutions, they predict.

Executives want technology to help build business rather than simply sustain it. The CMO Council, a global peer networking and thought leadership organization of more than 3,000 top marketing executives, warns technology vendors that it’s essential to address customer demand. Some 99% of customers surveyed say they will either scale back or terminate relationships with vendors that fail to deliver the technology their businesses need, the report notes.

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