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Will the real CIO Stand Up?

Will the real CIO Stand Up?

Beverley, Your article in the February edition of CIO caught my attention. As a professional in the field, and I use the word in the most specific of senses, I offer a few comments from personal experience. Your article does start well.

The quote by Mark Twain is well known, and refers to the situation of CIOs today in a most appropriate manner. You do not however, carry the argument established at the outset forward with any fortitude. As a clear role for the CIO is new, if it exists at all, it must rely on the skills referred to briefly in your opening. Qualification, not overstated claims, must underpin the CIO function. Our collective problem is that, for the moment, professionals with the correct blend of skills are few in number.

I agree strongly with your points: Be abreast of modern management techniques.

But, these must be relevant to the business function at hand. HR management is not a good starting point. Understand technology's implication. But, implications are insufficient. Actually understanding technologies is essential. Have a vision. But, a vision or hallucination? CIOs who lack appropriate experience live in fantasy. Be able to intellectually engage with a problem. But, in an increasingly complex world mere engagement is not enough.

Real problems are not the domain of dilettantes. Understand business economics.

But, if one has never studied accounting or economics one simply does not understand, however confident one might be inclined to feel. Juggle a personal life. But, one always believes that one is effective merely by being busy, after all. Be called on as corporate rainmaker. And, so much new business will increasingly flow from technologies. Without a genuine understanding of the technologies one has an arm tied behind the back.

Many people believe the false assertion that individuals with no experience of IT can successfully lead the information function. Oh yes, people from HR think that leading an IT group is no different to leading any other business group.

Well, it may seem that way to Mr Holland, but he cannot really help being wrong. He cannot possibly know better. I do agree that training is essential, but disagree with Ms Burke who feels pleased with attending a couple of short courses, and having a junket in Switzerland. It is a symptom of the problem that she considers a two-week course to be a big deal. A fundamental difference between training and education lies in the relative absence of concepts and principles. Without appropriate concepts and principles The "CI" must forever stand for "Chief Imposter". Personally, I am very tired of putting up with the ignorance and confidence of people who studied marketing, HR or biology pretending to be information executives. Beverley, it is time to stop congratulating the imposters in our midst. Other professions do not permit unqualified people to practise as professionals. While we continue to support such nonsense the role of the CIO must continue to be a farce. Or would you prefer your accountant to be a geologist, and your GP an accountant ?Stephen WallaceMr Wallace, Is the CIO an artist, a scientist, an executive? Or an occasionally uneasy amalgam of all three? I suspect from your letter, and the rigour of your argument, that your tendencies lean toward the science end of the composition.

But I suggest that success as a CIO requires a blend of all three talents. CIOs are a new phenomenon. Until a decade ago the manager of information systems, or the data processing manager took on some elements of the role now being addressed by CIOs. A healthy investigation into what makes a successful CIO (and indeed how that success can be measured?) is long overdue, and hopefully your letter will spark further debate. It is not that long ago that anyone with a sharp instrument could set-up as a sawbones; and anyone with cash in hand could become a coffee house financier. Over time though these have become professions, with standards and regulatory bodies to protect the public and guarantee some level of performance and probity. Only long debate and experience led to such developments. For CIOs the debate has barely begun.

To address your direct questions. I certainly would not want my GP to be an accountant -- but I would want his medical skills to be matched by an understanding of the economics of medicine so that he does now waste precious medical resources. I would not want my accountant to be a geologist -- but I would want him to go digging around looking for the best method in which I arrange my affairs. CIOs are rarely unqualified. Most have tertiary education, many have management education credentials -- all have some measure of technical literacy. Importantly they know how to learn, which is possibly the most durable benefit of a tertiary education. I should know, this journalist is a metallurgist.

Sincerely, Beverley Head

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