Tech executives stop cutting and get strategic

June 8, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

With the economy growing, CEOs want chief information officers to help with marketing and sales. Are the techies ready to step up?

Filippo Passerini

Filippo Passerini knows that a customer who likes to lather up with Pantene shampoo is probably in the market for Olay moisturizer products too -- and as chief information officer at Procter & Gamble, a growing part of his job is making sure that the company makes both sales.

Passerini's team of computing experts uses technology to analyze the $80 billion consumer giant's online shopping data -- like the shampoo/moisturizer connection -- to boost retail sales of P&G (PG) brands like Tide, Gillette, and Pampers. "We connect the dots with the information we have," he says.

After a year of hunkering down and slashing costs, many corporations are growing again -- and techies are leading the way. CEOs such as P&G's Bob McDonald increasingly view technology as a strategic tool for increasing revenue -- not just a way to make workers more efficient. A recent Gartner survey found revenue growth trumped cost cuts as CIOs' top priority for 2010.

To free up resources -- and time -- for their new-found strategic roles, CIOs are farming out IT drudgery like server maintenance. P&G's Passerini has outsourced many of the basics to Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), allowing him to cut $800 million from the IT budget over the past seven years while keeping roughly the same number of workers. What are those folks doing today? Passerini has repurposed IT guys as business-unit consultants who dream up ways to make better products and sell more of them.

Case in point: Passerini co-led the "Proud Sponsor of Moms" marketing campaign -- his team kept daily tabs on it, tracking data about every advertisement and media mention, and he used the campaign to pilot a new tool that tracks P&G's buzz on Twitter and other digital forums. Running a marketing campaign may not sound very high tech, but for the modern CIO, it is all in a day's work.

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