Not every IT department merger puts the CIO in charge, and not every CIO wants to manage other departments. Dealing with budget shortfalls, Tempe, Ariz., is working on a plan to consolidate IT and finance with a deputy director in each area reporting to one departmental leader.

"I am being demoted to deputy department head," said David Heck, Tempe's CIO. "It is strictly a cost-cutting measure."

He added that it isn't yet clear who will be the department's director. The city may hire someone from outside. But Heck said he was not interested in applying. "I have been in technology for 23 years. I can't see myself changing focus now and taking on finance," he said. With the budget challenges Tempe is facing, the person in charge of finance is going to be in the hot seat. "They are going to have to have their guns strapped on when they arrive," Heck said.

It may be perceived that organizations with CIOs reporting through finance don't highly value IT, but that may not necessarily be the case. "It really depends on whether the agency leader that the CIO reports to is tech-savvy or not," said California CIO Teri Takai. "If that person is the CIO's champion and a technology advocate, it can work out."

The danger is that once an organization embeds IT under finance with no direct line to the top executive, the CIO may feel disempowered enough to leave, said Martha Heller, managing director for ZRG Partners in Boston.

"And the only way you are going to get a super CIO back in the door is to break IT back out, and convince that person that IT is strategic," she said. "Otherwise, they will get what they are asking for: someone who will deliver projects in a well executed fashion, but not someone who will ask what technology can really do to transform operations."

Heck has expressed similar concerns to Tempe's civic leadership. "I have had a lot of candid conversations with our city manager," he said, "and he has assured me that IT is not going to get less attention and that he respects my role in the organization as an IT planning visionary for the city."