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CEOs may not understand the nuts and bolts of technology, but they will take an increasing role in the decisions previously reserved for CIOs as innovation becomes a key focus for 2006.

As the role of technology moves from a business supporter to an enabler, executives from outside the technology department are expanding their roles, especially when operations and a company’s business model are altered, said CEOs, CIOs and analysts.

Using IT to enable business performance and innovation is now the No. 2 technical concern facing CEOs, behind security, according to Stephen Minton, IT strategy and budget analyst at research company IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

“Business managers have caught on to the concept that IT has a more strategic role to play than just supporting,” Minton said. “Usually, CEOs were concerned with getting the cost out of IT or the complexity. It is a welcome turnaround that they are telling us they are driving strategic spending.”

At Health Quest, a three-hospital chain in New York state, CIO Nicholas Christiano makes the day-to-day IT decisions, but each hospital’s CEO keeps an eye on business-changing technology.

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“At our facilities, unless it is a pure-play IT deployment, a business [unit] owner, who drives decisions at the business level, is making the IT decisions,” Christiano said.

“When you are talking about making major modification in the way you do business, it is going to be made from the standpoint of the person who perceives the benefit, understands the impact and can manage the folks who would use it. The CIO can’t tell employees how to operate.”

Dan Aronzon, president and CEO of Health Quest’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center, made the decision to seek a new business model to manage floor operations and, with Christiano’s guidance, decided to incorporate a BPM (business process management) system that operates the hospital as retail or manufacturing floor space, Christiano said.

Christiano said his role in the process is more like that of a shepherd. “The CIO’s role is to demystify technology for the CEO,” he said. “They are going to make the decision based on better outcomes, safety, return on investment. You just have to guide them to the technology that does that.”

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