NEW YORK - CIOs have earned respect in boardrooms everywhere, but they\u2019ll have to continue innovating while keeping costs down to retain that respect in the future.That was the consensus of IT leaders who presented their views at this week\u2019s SIMposium 2003 conference held in New York by the Society for Information Management.After years of being thought of simply as overhead or a function of finance departments, IT is now being recognized as strategic to business. While that recognition gives top IT execs power, they must use that power to effect changes - or risk losing it.\u201cWe\u2019ve earned a seat at the main table. Now, how do we keep it?\u201d said Dan McNicholl, CIO of GM North America. His answer is to demonstrate value to the business.In particular, his group was able to show that a centralized network and IT infrastructure for product development - which the company calls the \u201cMath Pipeline\u201d - cut development time on cars from 48 months in 1996 to 18 months today. That, McNicholl said, fundamentally changes how GM operates, giving the company new flexibility and agility.\u201cThis is one of those areas you can point to and say, we made a difference,\u201d he said.It\u2019s this kind of strategic potential that has raised IT\u2019s visibility in corporate boardrooms, said Richard Nolan, professor of business administration at Harvard University. But the problem is that CEOs and board members often don\u2019t understand IT, leaving technology-related issues solely to IT people. Doing so is an admission that the managers don\u2019t know what they don\u2019t know, and it signals that they don\u2019t value IT.\u201cThat\u2019s dangerous. That\u2019s got to change. That\u2019s an accident waiting to happen,\u201d Nolan said.However, boards of directors are starting to wake up to this fact. Nolan said a strong analogy is what has recently happened with accounting. When the accounting scandals broke out across corporations, CEOs and board members were saying they weren\u2019t aware of the accounting shenanigans going on. Now, accounting oversight committees are springing up.Similarly, IT oversight committees are arising out of a realization that IT is as critical accounting, Nolan said. FedEx and Mellon Financial are just two companies putting these committees in place.While some IT professionals may see such interest from the business side as unwanted interference, most CIOs believe they need the involvement - and the blessing of the business\u2019 leaders - to get things done.With the backing of new leadership at Campbell Soup two years ago, Doreen Wright was able to begin an IT transformation that will continue for another year or so. The company has collected many individual brands over the years, ranging from Godiva to Pepperidge Farm to Prego. This created a silo atmosphere, with each organization doing its own IT.Wright set out to change that.Campbell standardized on LAN and WAN equipment, and took advantage of its size to renegotiate its outsourcing contracts for the whole business. It also saved money by canceling development projects that duplicated efforts.Top leaders also recognized that Campbell had serious information security issues, Wright said. While she wouldn\u2019t go into detail, she said the company failed numerous internal security audits, and this actually advanced her cause among the top business executives.\u201cWe didn\u2019t have to make a business case\u201d for the changes, Wright said. \u201cThere was a leap of faith that this investment had to happen.\u201dWhile such carte blanche might be rare, CIOs at the conference agreed that it is possible to find the money to do the things that need to be done.For instance, former JetBlue Airways CIO Jeff Cohen stressed that, in the current economic climate, it\u2019s inexpensive to get good employees.\u201cYou no longer have to pay extraordinary prices to get good people,\u201d he said. \u201cSpending money on good talent will make your IT structure strong.\u201dCohen also is a fan of cozying up to vendors to get deep discounts. JetBlue\u2019s priority was to be one of Microsoft\u2019s \u201cfirst and best\u201d customers, actively seeking out the vendor\u2019s beta programs.\u201cIf you\u2019re constantly looking at new technology, it\u2019s a lot less expensive than doing a [periodic] refresh,\u201d Cohen said. \u201cWe were one of the first to receive new technology, which is a competitive advantage.\u201dBy finding creative ways like that to cut costs, Cohen was able to stay within JetBlue\u2019s strict IT budget of 1.4% of revenues.GM\u2019s McNicholl said he cuts back spending on legacy programs to \u201charvest\u201d funds for new ones. With a ruthless focus on cutting backroom costs, the company\u2019s IT spending has decreased, while it retains money for new initiatives. \u201cIs [cost cutting] strategic? You bet,\u201d McNicholl said. \u201cIt sounds tactical, but it fuels everything.\u201dAnd what does GM\u2019s top brass think?\u201cWe\u2019re heroes,\u201d he said.