Can a CIO be Successful Without IT Experience?

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iStock_000000250277XSmallLast 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 Alignment

Business measurements, objectives, motivations

How to link business needs with technology

Planning

Business cycles, prioritization of business capabilities, budgeting

Dependency management, resources, knowledge of what is realistic, systems architecture

Execution

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:

  1. Leadership abilities
  2. Hands-on technology background
  3. Experience in leading large change programs
  4. Experience in running successful IT infrastructure operations
  5. Management experience in a non-IT function
  6. Is an innovative thinker and can apply it to solve relevant industry and business issues
  7. Ability to understand how projects and operations impact corporate financials

What do you think THE most important attribute for a CIO is?

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  • Chris, I am always one of the first to argue that CIOs must have a strong understanding of the business in order to be successful. It is critical for them as individuals and it is critical for the business.

    However, and with that in mind, you cannot be a successful CIO without experience in IT. You must be able to “speak IT” with your team, translate that across other teams in terms they can understand… You must have both.

    John Moore

  • Chris, I am always one of the first to argue that CIOs must have a strong understanding of the business in order to be successful. It is critical for them as individuals and it is critical for the business.

    However, and with that in mind, you cannot be a successful CIO without experience in IT. You must be able to “speak IT” with your team, translate that across other teams in terms they can understand… You must have both.

    John Moore

  • I agree with John completely. A CIO is a Chief Information Officer – the equivalent to a CTO in many companies. The CIO must have solid IT experience…and not just IT experience by leadership and decision-making experience in a technology leadership role.

  • I agree with John completely. A CIO is a Chief Information Officer – the equivalent to a CTO in many companies. The CIO must have solid IT experience…and not just IT experience by leadership and decision-making experience in a technology leadership role.

  • A CIO without a strong IT background is a COO, or a CEO maybe. I wonder if someone with a strong business background but no financial expertise should be considered for a CFO position. Same idea.. A balanced C-level team requires various perspectives. The technical perspective is one.

    And, it is also paramount that the CIO be able to articulate the IT position and vision. This ability provides greatest value to the organization.

  • A CIO without a strong IT background is a COO, or a CEO maybe. I wonder if someone with a strong business background but no financial expertise should be considered for a CFO position. Same idea.. A balanced C-level team requires various perspectives. The technical perspective is one.

    And, it is also paramount that the CIO be able to articulate the IT position and vision. This ability provides greatest value to the organization.

  • I’ll be interested to see who argues in the affirmative here (i.e., that a CIO can indeed be successful without IT experience). One of the things I write about fairly frequently are what I call “hot stove lessons” in IT: lessons that people seem to need to learn on their own, each and every time (see, for example, http://www.peterkretzman.com/2008/08/27/hot-stove-lessons-in-it-part-i/). Putting in as CIO a senior executive who hasn’t been burned by many or most of these is tantamount to handing over the quarterbacking to someone who’s never been on the field before.

    As John Moore points out, you need both business and IT focus and knowledge to excel in this kind of role. Balance is key.

    I’ve also written on what I’ve seen happen if you put in a CIO without the requisite technical experience in the critical and multiheaded responsibilities you outline in this post: IT is then “‘managed’ by someone who isn’t at all technology-oriented, who then proves ineffective, open to vendor manipulation, staff disrespect, and a steadily increasing “herding cats” mentality on technology matters.” Don’t do this, folks.

  • I’ll be interested to see who argues in the affirmative here (i.e., that a CIO can indeed be successful without IT experience). One of the things I write about fairly frequently are what I call “hot stove lessons” in IT: lessons that people seem to need to learn on their own, each and every time (see, for example, http://www.peterkretzman.com/2008/08/27/hot-stove-lessons-in-it-part-i/). Putting in as CIO a senior executive who hasn’t been burned by many or most of these is tantamount to handing over the quarterbacking to someone who’s never been on the field before.

    As John Moore points out, you need both business and IT focus and knowledge to excel in this kind of role. Balance is key.

    I’ve also written on what I’ve seen happen if you put in a CIO without the requisite technical experience in the critical and multiheaded responsibilities you outline in this post: IT is then “‘managed’ by someone who isn’t at all technology-oriented, who then proves ineffective, open to vendor manipulation, staff disrespect, and a steadily increasing “herding cats” mentality on technology matters.” Don’t do this, folks.

  • Chris –

    It’s an interesting premise, and one that is repeated many times in most environments I see. Larger companies tend to move ‘high-potential’ executive candidates to a less technical and more management “science” tracks. While I agree with your premise that the optimal CIO should have both IT and relevant business experience, I have seen CIOs without IT experience succeed as well. One of the best was a CISO I worked for who actually studied, took, and passed a CISSP exam along with her technical resources – after working her way up through the general management track.

    I find your example of the recreationally whining CIO quite instructive. The underlying issue wasn’t lack of IT expertise – it was lack of trust in her “new people”. Effective leadership is not about leading – it’s about getting others to follow you, and that generally involves bidirectional understanding, if not trust. There are plenty of successful leadership patterns documented – even going as far back as Sun Tsu’s Art of War. I’m not aware of any successful leadership patterns that involves calling one’s team “them”. Did the CISO in my example need to take the CISSP exam? Of course not, but it did gain her credibility with her new department despite lack of any security-related work in her experience.

    As IT becomes increasingly complex at all levels of infrastructure and application development, CIO’s ability to be successful will probably become more dependent on whether they can rely on people they lead for decision-grade information. It doesn’t have to be direct reports – but there better be trusted advisers they can rely on. Without that in place, any organization that appoints a non-technically savvy CIO is in severe danger of mismanaging their technology investments.

  • Chris –

    It’s an interesting premise, and one that is repeated many times in most environments I see. Larger companies tend to move ‘high-potential’ executive candidates to a less technical and more management “science” tracks. While I agree with your premise that the optimal CIO should have both IT and relevant business experience, I have seen CIOs without IT experience succeed as well. One of the best was a CISO I worked for who actually studied, took, and passed a CISSP exam along with her technical resources – after working her way up through the general management track.

    I find your example of the recreationally whining CIO quite instructive. The underlying issue wasn’t lack of IT expertise – it was lack of trust in her “new people”. Effective leadership is not about leading – it’s about getting others to follow you, and that generally involves bidirectional understanding, if not trust. There are plenty of successful leadership patterns documented – even going as far back as Sun Tsu’s Art of War. I’m not aware of any successful leadership patterns that involves calling one’s team “them”. Did the CISO in my example need to take the CISSP exam? Of course not, but it did gain her credibility with her new department despite lack of any security-related work in her experience.

    As IT becomes increasingly complex at all levels of infrastructure and application development, CIO’s ability to be successful will probably become more dependent on whether they can rely on people they lead for decision-grade information. It doesn’t have to be direct reports – but there better be trusted advisers they can rely on. Without that in place, any organization that appoints a non-technically savvy CIO is in severe danger of mismanaging their technology investments.

  • I agree with John and Peter. You cannot have a CIO without IT experience. You have to have that background and understanding in order to be successful. You will also have the respect of your staff that are in the trenches. They will know that you can relate to the problems they are facing.

    As John points out, a CIO also needs a strong understanding of the business side as well. This is part of the job as being “chief”. Again without business experience a CIO will not have the respect of other business leaders.

    Being a successful CIO requires a well rounded leader.

  • I agree with John and Peter. You cannot have a CIO without IT experience. You have to have that background and understanding in order to be successful. You will also have the respect of your staff that are in the trenches. They will know that you can relate to the problems they are facing.

    As John points out, a CIO also needs a strong understanding of the business side as well. This is part of the job as being “chief”. Again without business experience a CIO will not have the respect of other business leaders.

    Being a successful CIO requires a well rounded leader.

  • Hi Chris,

    As Arun points out, I agree you need folks with both sides. I think what makes this complicated is the fact that IT is the only department that is both staff and line. Finance is staff only. Sales is line only. But, the leader of IT is both a staff person (support) and often a line person (e.g. runs the bit factory). It is because of this unique role that he or she needs dual experience. It is not important to have a CFO with line experience, but it is essential for a CIO.

    Best,
    john

  • Hi Chris,

    As Arun points out, I agree you need folks with both sides. I think what makes this complicated is the fact that IT is the only department that is both staff and line. Finance is staff only. Sales is line only. But, the leader of IT is both a staff person (support) and often a line person (e.g. runs the bit factory). It is because of this unique role that he or she needs dual experience. It is not important to have a CFO with line experience, but it is essential for a CIO.

    Best,
    john

  • It seems clear to me that the CIO absolutely must have a deep understanding of IT and all the issues involved (not just passing experience or a bit of management experience within an IT domain). Of course all CxOs (and the CIO is no exception) require significant business experience and savvy as well, and this is the reason there are perhaps less candidates for CIO from the world of IT than there are CFO’s from the world of finance (and thus why companies often compromise). So in conclusion, a CIO must come from the heart of the IT community, but must be business focussed. It amazes me we even have this conversation. I would suggest anyone who thinks otherwise should have a go at applying for a CFO role with no financial experience and see how much respect their application receives.

    Regards
    Jon H Ayre
    The Enterprising Architect

  • It seems clear to me that the CIO absolutely must have a deep understanding of IT and all the issues involved (not just passing experience or a bit of management experience within an IT domain). Of course all CxOs (and the CIO is no exception) require significant business experience and savvy as well, and this is the reason there are perhaps less candidates for CIO from the world of IT than there are CFO’s from the world of finance (and thus why companies often compromise). So in conclusion, a CIO must come from the heart of the IT community, but must be business focussed. It amazes me we even have this conversation. I would suggest anyone who thinks otherwise should have a go at applying for a CFO role with no financial experience and see how much respect their application receives.

    Regards
    Jon H Ayre
    The Enterprising Architect

  • Hi Chris,
    It is indeed rare to see a successful CIO who does not have an IT background, but there are some caveats to consider.
    First, many CIOs, especially those in large, complex companies, have a trusted lieutenant who is effectively the CIO of technology. This kind of partnership can work if the two have a great rapport and deep trust in one another. Both need to be interested in both the technology *and* the business, but each has clear strengths in one versus the other.
    Another issue to consider is that while IT staffs generally want a leader who has experience in technology, that preference is more grounded in tribalism than in the interests of the department or the business. It’s natural to want one of your own leading you. But technology changes so rapidly that the actual technology experience of the CIO may be completely outdated or irrelevant to the job at hand. What it does mostly is give the CIO empathy for the function, which has positives and negatives.
    So have I seen CIOs without technology experience succeed? Yes, but only when they have a trusted lieutenant who brings that technology experience and can invest the time and attention to stay current on technology and transfer that knowledge to the CIO and the organization.
    You could argue that the CIO role is really a job for two people.

  • Hi Chris,
    It is indeed rare to see a successful CIO who does not have an IT background, but there are some caveats to consider.
    First, many CIOs, especially those in large, complex companies, have a trusted lieutenant who is effectively the CIO of technology. This kind of partnership can work if the two have a great rapport and deep trust in one another. Both need to be interested in both the technology *and* the business, but each has clear strengths in one versus the other.
    Another issue to consider is that while IT staffs generally want a leader who has experience in technology, that preference is more grounded in tribalism than in the interests of the department or the business. It’s natural to want one of your own leading you. But technology changes so rapidly that the actual technology experience of the CIO may be completely outdated or irrelevant to the job at hand. What it does mostly is give the CIO empathy for the function, which has positives and negatives.
    So have I seen CIOs without technology experience succeed? Yes, but only when they have a trusted lieutenant who brings that technology experience and can invest the time and attention to stay current on technology and transfer that knowledge to the CIO and the organization.
    You could argue that the CIO role is really a job for two people.

  • Paul Tiseo

    It’s funny that this question seems to come up again and again in CIO forums and groups. I agree with Jon Ayre.

    How many CFOs have no financial background? How many VPs Of Sales have never sold a widget before? Why is it perceived that we can move a COO over to the CIO/CTO position, but not the reverse?

    Any CxO position is a combination of expertise, and then added layers of “big picture thinking” ability and leadership.

    Seriously, if a CEO is asking that question, he/she just has a bad CIO and needs a “Real CIO”. If it’s a CIO asking the question, then we basically have an insecure CIO who needs to drop out of the herd. 🙂

  • Paul Tiseo

    It’s funny that this question seems to come up again and again in CIO forums and groups. I agree with Jon Ayre.

    How many CFOs have no financial background? How many VPs Of Sales have never sold a widget before? Why is it perceived that we can move a COO over to the CIO/CTO position, but not the reverse?

    Any CxO position is a combination of expertise, and then added layers of “big picture thinking” ability and leadership.

    Seriously, if a CEO is asking that question, he/she just has a bad CIO and needs a “Real CIO”. If it’s a CIO asking the question, then we basically have an insecure CIO who needs to drop out of the herd. 🙂

  • This is a dilemma that many companies face, I believe the CIO is the Chief Information Officer which is totally different from Chief Technology Officer. If we as information technology professionals cannot distinguish the difference we have no hope of ever explaining it, to an outside person. As a CIO your primary function should be to ensure that the Information Technology is in-line with the strategic goals of the organization to meet present and future needs in the most cost-effective manner. The Chief Technology Officers job should be to understand what’s possible and what’s not, time constraints in overall IT project management. So to answer the basic question. This is what we would consider a true oxymoron the ability to balance the love of technology with a political environment and a great understanding of strategic planning, it is almost a handicap for a CIO to have to much understanding of technology.

  • This is a dilemma that many companies face, I believe the CIO is the Chief Information Officer which is totally different from Chief Technology Officer. If we as information technology professionals cannot distinguish the difference we have no hope of ever explaining it, to an outside person. As a CIO your primary function should be to ensure that the Information Technology is in-line with the strategic goals of the organization to meet present and future needs in the most cost-effective manner. The Chief Technology Officers job should be to understand what’s possible and what’s not, time constraints in overall IT project management. So to answer the basic question. This is what we would consider a true oxymoron the ability to balance the love of technology with a political environment and a great understanding of strategic planning, it is almost a handicap for a CIO to have to much understanding of technology.

  • John M

    I suppose being of a naturally analytical mindset, the first thing I asked when I saw the title of the article is “What are the criteria for success?” Frankly, I can’t answer the question without defining that key element first.

    To me, the CIO role acts as a liaison between the executive staff and the technology staff. The ability to communicate effectively in both environments is key.

  • John M

    I suppose being of a naturally analytical mindset, the first thing I asked when I saw the title of the article is “What are the criteria for success?” Frankly, I can’t answer the question without defining that key element first.

    To me, the CIO role acts as a liaison between the executive staff and the technology staff. The ability to communicate effectively in both environments is key.

  • Zach Sachen

    Chris – interesting topic. I think the person needs to have a bit of overlap to be successful. That is, in order to understand what can be done with technology I need a snippet – that will start the discussion. I expect my partner, the CIO, to help me further understand the technology I heard about. Same goes for the CIO – that is, at a minimum the CIO must understand what the business does (thinking value chain / functional level) and rely on the biz leaders to further his/her knowledge of the business function. This is very much related to my Venn Factor article – see: http://stayoutside.com/wiki/index.php/Venn_Factor
    -Zach

  • Zach Sachen

    Chris – interesting topic. I think the person needs to have a bit of overlap to be successful. That is, in order to understand what can be done with technology I need a snippet – that will start the discussion. I expect my partner, the CIO, to help me further understand the technology I heard about. Same goes for the CIO – that is, at a minimum the CIO must understand what the business does (thinking value chain / functional level) and rely on the biz leaders to further his/her knowledge of the business function. This is very much related to my Venn Factor article – see: http://stayoutside.com/wiki/index.php/Venn_Factor
    -Zach

  • Ron

    Many have already stated what is very true. For a CIO to be successful they must have IT experience. If this were not true why then is it not OK to hire a technologist as a CFO – different technical expertise! Many organizations do not have both CIO and CTO. The CIO needs to know what is right and wrong on projects, what works and doesn’t, should it be SQL or Oracle, windows or Unix. In the end it is the CIO that has to buy off on the recommendation of their reports. The buck stops there. I have experienced this first hand and believe me things can go real wrong real fast damaging the business and the IT organization.

  • Ron

    Many have already stated what is very true. For a CIO to be successful they must have IT experience. If this were not true why then is it not OK to hire a technologist as a CFO – different technical expertise! Many organizations do not have both CIO and CTO. The CIO needs to know what is right and wrong on projects, what works and doesn’t, should it be SQL or Oracle, windows or Unix. In the end it is the CIO that has to buy off on the recommendation of their reports. The buck stops there. I have experienced this first hand and believe me things can go real wrong real fast damaging the business and the IT organization.

  • Lou Orlando

    I think the most important thing a CIO needs is an ability to lead, empower (and trust) a team of IT professionals who, along with their technical skills, understand the business they are in and business in general. It is important that the CIOs have credibility with those they lead and with those the serve as well. Experience a CIO has gained in the past working on major successful IT projects in the systems development and infrastructure areas goes a long way.

  • Lou Orlando

    I think the most important thing a CIO needs is an ability to lead, empower (and trust) a team of IT professionals who, along with their technical skills, understand the business they are in and business in general. It is important that the CIOs have credibility with those they lead and with those the serve as well. Experience a CIO has gained in the past working on major successful IT projects in the systems development and infrastructure areas goes a long way.

  • Paul Blaney

    They need to walk the talk in a few key areas:

    Hardware Infrastructure and Operations;
    Systems Management;
    Development;
    Governance

    Leadership qualities in terms of vision and planning are also useful.

    I believe they are most valuable to the business if they have all the large areas covered through hands on experience. I would add to this a primary degree in CS, Technology, with a post grad a nice asset to have.
    I don’t know of too many CFO’s out there who don’t have either a primary or MBA type of designation in their field.

    CIO’s or CTO’s, or both, are the Technology voice at the executive table, just as Sales run Sales, Finance runs Finance, Service runs Service etc. It would be interesting to see a ‘general manager’ run Finance, Legal, Sales or Marketing. In small companies leaders wear many hats, so there is room in that domain to allow cross functional accountability.

    The whole issue comes down to business functions viewing Technology as technologists, and themselves as the keepers of the business. The ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ scenario that was mentioned. It is an old adage that some business person believes they can make IT better, faster, cheaper. Perhaps there are elements of these things that do need improvement, and an IT professional is the one to do it.

    It is the same perspective that drives the ‘business’ to want to outsurce, offshore and generally attempt to commoditize IT. The common factor in that approach is simply cost reduction under the guise of operational efficiency. One wonders how this can continue when so many businesses today cannot function without technology.

    I would argue that in many areas such as Financial Services, their greatest asset is Information, such data being ‘processed’ by technology. It is a simple perspective to grasp the strategic importance of the leadership of that function.

    There is no reason why good technology leaders cannot function at the executive table as equal strategic partners in the success of the business at large. It is the other leaders at that table who need to embrace their new dependency; collaborate with it; and support it’s breadth and strategic contribution. Seeking comfort in creating a ‘business leader from the business’ approach for IT is a slippery slope of decline for the function, and in fact, I would argue a service, efficiency and revenue roadblock guarantee.

    I would take this one step further – I believe CEO’s should look around their executive table, and the last function they should consider not having almost 100% in-house is Technology. The risks are huge otherwise.

    In that respect, the CIO leader must have all the technology experience in the key areas in play in an enterprise. This will maximize the value at the strategic table by fully understanding how technology can leverage the success of the business.

  • Paul Blaney

    They need to walk the talk in a few key areas:

    Hardware Infrastructure and Operations;
    Systems Management;
    Development;
    Governance

    Leadership qualities in terms of vision and planning are also useful.

    I believe they are most valuable to the business if they have all the large areas covered through hands on experience. I would add to this a primary degree in CS, Technology, with a post grad a nice asset to have.
    I don’t know of too many CFO’s out there who don’t have either a primary or MBA type of designation in their field.

    CIO’s or CTO’s, or both, are the Technology voice at the executive table, just as Sales run Sales, Finance runs Finance, Service runs Service etc. It would be interesting to see a ‘general manager’ run Finance, Legal, Sales or Marketing. In small companies leaders wear many hats, so there is room in that domain to allow cross functional accountability.

    The whole issue comes down to business functions viewing Technology as technologists, and themselves as the keepers of the business. The ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ scenario that was mentioned. It is an old adage that some business person believes they can make IT better, faster, cheaper. Perhaps there are elements of these things that do need improvement, and an IT professional is the one to do it.

    It is the same perspective that drives the ‘business’ to want to outsurce, offshore and generally attempt to commoditize IT. The common factor in that approach is simply cost reduction under the guise of operational efficiency. One wonders how this can continue when so many businesses today cannot function without technology.

    I would argue that in many areas such as Financial Services, their greatest asset is Information, such data being ‘processed’ by technology. It is a simple perspective to grasp the strategic importance of the leadership of that function.

    There is no reason why good technology leaders cannot function at the executive table as equal strategic partners in the success of the business at large. It is the other leaders at that table who need to embrace their new dependency; collaborate with it; and support it’s breadth and strategic contribution. Seeking comfort in creating a ‘business leader from the business’ approach for IT is a slippery slope of decline for the function, and in fact, I would argue a service, efficiency and revenue roadblock guarantee.

    I would take this one step further – I believe CEO’s should look around their executive table, and the last function they should consider not having almost 100% in-house is Technology. The risks are huge otherwise.

    In that respect, the CIO leader must have all the technology experience in the key areas in play in an enterprise. This will maximize the value at the strategic table by fully understanding how technology can leverage the success of the business.

  • Strategic and business thinking is one side of the coin for a CIO.
    However, in an IT area he/she will be as a building with roof, but without bases in IT, if there is not an IT experience.

  • Strategic and business thinking is one side of the coin for a CIO.
    However, in an IT area he/she will be as a building with roof, but without bases in IT, if there is not an IT experience.

  • Manoj

    I was asked the same question in one of the discussions with CIOs. With all arguments and counter arguments, we altimately agreed that a seasoned IT person who has matured to understand and appreciate business, is able to relate to business and able to translate it back to IT is key. A CIO’s role is also to look at Technological advances and innovations and propose its impact on business. A person without IT background will find it difficult.

  • Manoj

    I was asked the same question in one of the discussions with CIOs. With all arguments and counter arguments, we altimately agreed that a seasoned IT person who has matured to understand and appreciate business, is able to relate to business and able to translate it back to IT is key. A CIO’s role is also to look at Technological advances and innovations and propose its impact on business. A person without IT background will find it difficult.

  • Kathleen Velasquez

    There have been many CIO’s who have the technical background, and are still unsuccessful. Chris lists the CIO skillset priorities and indicates as #1 Leadership Abilities. This is the downfall of many a CIO, whether they possess an extensive IT background or not. If an individual does not possess the capability to be an effective leader, they will not succeed. While it is rare, I believe it it possible for a person without an IT background to be successful as a CIO. I do think they need to be technically savvy, but not necessarily have a formal IT background. If the individual possesses the leadership capabilities required, they will be (or shoud be) intelligent enough to surround themselves with a highly skilled team that will provide the knowledge on the IT side to account for the gaps in their background, enabling them to be successful.

  • Kathleen Velasquez

    There have been many CIO’s who have the technical background, and are still unsuccessful. Chris lists the CIO skillset priorities and indicates as #1 Leadership Abilities. This is the downfall of many a CIO, whether they possess an extensive IT background or not. If an individual does not possess the capability to be an effective leader, they will not succeed. While it is rare, I believe it it possible for a person without an IT background to be successful as a CIO. I do think they need to be technically savvy, but not necessarily have a formal IT background. If the individual possesses the leadership capabilities required, they will be (or shoud be) intelligent enough to surround themselves with a highly skilled team that will provide the knowledge on the IT side to account for the gaps in their background, enabling them to be successful.

  • Neville Fernandes

    Success means different things , we have Kings in Europe,Asia and Africa with little or no educational background and experience,illiterate and inexperienced leaders like Abraham Lincon that have ruled the US and have been successfull.
    A CIO is a small fry compared to the these leaders . One can therefore conclude that a CIO doesn’t need IT experience ,but the ability to quickly learn on the job and deliver.

  • Neville Fernandes

    Success means different things , we have Kings in Europe,Asia and Africa with little or no educational background and experience,illiterate and inexperienced leaders like Abraham Lincon that have ruled the US and have been successfull.
    A CIO is a small fry compared to the these leaders . One can therefore conclude that a CIO doesn’t need IT experience ,but the ability to quickly learn on the job and deliver.

  • cornercuttin

    I have developed for a CIO who had a PhD in Computer Science, and he had no clue what he was doing. He was put there purely because of his degree, and had no business being in the position he was in. Many of his developers (including myself) had a lot more understanding of our business as a whole, but also market trends and project feasibility.

    Personally, I could not follow a CIO that does not have IT experience. I cannot rally behind that, and most developers feel the same way. There will be an eventual disconnect from IT people to non-IT people, but I don’t think that disconnect should occur at the CIO level.

  • cornercuttin

    I have developed for a CIO who had a PhD in Computer Science, and he had no clue what he was doing. He was put there purely because of his degree, and had no business being in the position he was in. Many of his developers (including myself) had a lot more understanding of our business as a whole, but also market trends and project feasibility.

    Personally, I could not follow a CIO that does not have IT experience. I cannot rally behind that, and most developers feel the same way. There will be an eventual disconnect from IT people to non-IT people, but I don’t think that disconnect should occur at the CIO level.

  • Rom

    I agree with everyone here – the CIO absolutely needs IT experience. Too many times have I seen inept CIO’s, or even any level of IT management, who have little to no IT experience and essentially need their staff to present “envelopes” to them that they can just pick one without understanding all the issues at hand.

    One thing in the article that I don’t agree with though is:

    5. Management experience in a non-IT function

    I don’t think a CIO needs to have done a sales, marketing, or other role to be qualified for CIO – and in fact doing so I feel means that he/she isn’t really committed to technology awareness (most technology people would find working in sales/marketing/etc mind numbing). Business awareness is crucial, but it really is an executive *team*. Does a CEO have to have been a CFO to be qualified? No, the CEO trusts his/her CFO to understand that part. Does a CFO have to have been a COO? No.

    It makes me mad how the CIO position is seen by many executive teams to be the “unwanted” position, and business people who want to make C-level will accept the position just to further their careers no matter how bad they are at it. I wonder how many of these so-called CIO’s could formulate an educated decision about something as industry hyped as, say, the appropriate use of SaaS technologies.

  • Rom

    I agree with everyone here – the CIO absolutely needs IT experience. Too many times have I seen inept CIO’s, or even any level of IT management, who have little to no IT experience and essentially need their staff to present “envelopes” to them that they can just pick one without understanding all the issues at hand.

    One thing in the article that I don’t agree with though is:

    5. Management experience in a non-IT function

    I don’t think a CIO needs to have done a sales, marketing, or other role to be qualified for CIO – and in fact doing so I feel means that he/she isn’t really committed to technology awareness (most technology people would find working in sales/marketing/etc mind numbing). Business awareness is crucial, but it really is an executive *team*. Does a CEO have to have been a CFO to be qualified? No, the CEO trusts his/her CFO to understand that part. Does a CFO have to have been a COO? No.

    It makes me mad how the CIO position is seen by many executive teams to be the “unwanted” position, and business people who want to make C-level will accept the position just to further their careers no matter how bad they are at it. I wonder how many of these so-called CIO’s could formulate an educated decision about something as industry hyped as, say, the appropriate use of SaaS technologies.

  • See my blog for more discussion on this topic also (link below)- Absolutely, once and for all, you DO need IT and business experience to be a CIO, just as you need business and finance experience to be a CFO.

    http://www.maxsys.co.nz/?p=798

  • See my blog for more discussion on this topic also (link below)- Absolutely, once and for all, you DO need IT and business experience to be a CIO, just as you need business and finance experience to be a CFO.

    http://www.maxsys.co.nz/?p=798

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