Can a CIO be Successful Without IT Experience?post by Chris Curran on September 22, 2009
Last week, the Financial Times ran an article about Sir Ian Andrews, the new leader of the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (analogous to the FBI) describing some concerns about his lack of relevant experience. Apparently, there are some who are mad that more hasn’t been done to control over 4,000 gangs and a £ 40B black market.
Here’s a quote from Sir Ian:
I don’t think being chairman of a large organisation does require strategic expertise in one field. What it does require is a track record of leadership.
This reminded me of a presentation I sat in a few months ago in which the new CIO of a Fortune 500 organization described some of the challenges she saw in her new role.
Us Versus Them
She described her background working her way up in a business unit, finally reaching the general manager position. In her tenure “in the business,” she described many of the pains in working with IT and how she was now well-positioned to address many of those issues.
All of the great business oriented discussion from the CIO was overshadowed by her constant referral of the IT organization as “them,” even after almost two years in the post.
I’m sure that her leadership experience in the business convinced the executive suite that she was well-suited to join them. But, I wonder if it is enough to lead an IT organization, especially a large and complex one, without ANY relevant IT experience. Can you have the right perspective?
Business or IT Background?
Can a CIO be truly successful in both leading his or her organization in the use of IT and leading the IT organization required to make it all happen without any experience working in the IT function itself? Some elements that each type of person would bring to a CIO position include:
|Function||CIO with Business Experience Only||CIO with IT Experience|
|Strategic Use of IT||
Business context, market needs, customers, partners
What’s possible with technology
Business measurements, objectives, motivations
How to link business needs with technology
Business cycles, prioritization of business capabilities, budgeting
Dependency management, resources, knowledge of what is realistic, systems architecture
End user perspective, business trade-offs, training needs
Program and project management, cost-schedule-scope tradeoffs,
|Operations & Management||
End user perspective
Vendor management, technology components, IT team building
I would argue that if the CIO participates as a full member of the executive team, then the business perspective is represented by all of the functional and business heads and the CIO brings the unique IT perspective. If an executive team has a CIO with only strong business perspective, it is incomplete.
The CIO Skillset Priorities
This question is obviously more complex than just looking at a CIO candidate and his/her IT experience. A broader set of skills and experiences should be considered, such as:
- Leadership abilities
- Hands-on technology background
- Experience in leading large change programs
- Experience in running successful IT infrastructure operations
- Management experience in a non-IT function
- Is an innovative thinker and can apply it to solve relevant industry and business issues
- Ability to understand how projects and operations impact corporate financials
What do you think THE most important attribute for a CIO is?