Ken Matthews is concerned the autonomy and authority that chief information officers once enjoyed is slowly being eroded.

The former global CIO of BHP Billiton - with CIO roles at Transurban, Newcrest Mining and Skilled also to his name - is now managing director of CIO Advisory, a consultancy that aims to help current CIOs achieve IT's full potential.

"When we talk to boards and executives, the number one and two questions I get is 'Why do I need IT at all?' and 'Can I get rid of my CIO?'," he said.

Underpinning that sentiment is distrust of the IT organisation generally. Time and cost overruns and unmet business expectations are some of the reasons why this distrust has formed and historically built.

"We're losing the battle with executives about what our job is, and under stress we return to what is easy, which is the classic technical roles - desktop, networking, ERP projects, upgrading hardware - when none of those things matter," Matthews said.

"What we should be looking at is what is damaging our business, how is our business going to be disrupted, and how are we going to turn that around."

For Matthews, the top CIOs in Australia are those that can be classified as disruptors. "That's where we should be but that's a very small percentage of the market," he said. It's less than five percent.

"What businesses need is a disruptive CIO but actually what they've got is a technical or business CIO."

Matthews drives his point home at conferences by posing a single question to CIOs in the audience.

"I always ask, 'Who knows what version of email they're running'," he said.

"They put their hands up and I say, 'Well, none of you are CIOs because it's irrelevant what version of email you're running. The real question is what business issues is your business struggling with and how are you fixing it through technology'."

Three months to win

Matthews believes a new CIO has a honeymoon period of three months when commencing a new role.

"It doesn't matter what you do, they'll love you because you're going to fix everything," he said.

"But in that three months you need to do something that buys you another three months, and if you don't do it you lose them straight away."

Once trust is lost, it is ten times harder to win it back, according to Matthews.

"It's easier to gain the trust when you start," he said. "I do a lot of mentoring with CIOs when they have lost trust."

When a CIO loses trust, Matthews recommends an "intervention" of sorts. This might involve "rebirthing" the CIO, resetting his or her focus and agenda, and the expectations that the business has of them.

"I'm a huge fan of rebirthing but you need someone else to help you," he said.

A sense of community

Matthews also wants to see CIOs band together as other C-level professionals do.

"When I started 25 years ago the CFO was just as poorly thought of as the CIO," he said. "Now, CFOs are running organisations, they've got a tight knit community, they help each other when they're in trouble, and they give advice freely. We as CIOs don't do that.

"It's a question of how do we work together as a CIO community to improve. I hope the CIO community will come together to prove the role of the CIO."