Arnott's CIO Sue Sutton saw clearly from the very beginning of the Internet frenzy that the hype and the predictions about the so-called dotcom revolution were mostly "just crap". While it was obvious the Internet would play a valuable role as a new and extremely useful channel, Sutton knew without a shadow of doubt - as if the future had already been written in stone - that the Internet would never be a business model in its own right. A less technically savvy CIO might have been more easily misled, she says - indeed very many clearly were - but the 29 years she had spent in IT since she started as a programmer had equipped her well to assess the technology's true potential.
While debate continues and the sands keep shifting on whether organisations are better served by CIOs who come from the business and fully understand its priorities or ones who have gained the most thorough-possible grounding in technology, Sutton has no doubt those who came from within IT have a couple of major advantages. A better bullshit detector is just the start of it, she says.
On the other side of the debate, Qantas CIO Fiona Balfour, who pits her 25 years in IT against Sutton's 29, but who comes very much from a business background and has no technical qualifications to speak of, knows just how many advantages CIOs with a business background have to bring to the table. With the changing role of the CIO and corporate governance of IT assets more critical to the business, Balfour says business background and business acumen are now essential to fulfilling the CIO role, with technology nous far less so.
Clearly, the ideal CIO would be as familiar with the business and business fundamentals as he or she is with every area of technology. But CIOs have to start somewhere, and most will have to pick up gaps in their skills and knowledge on the job. So CIO set out to find out what advice some really well-rounded CIOs who originally came from a business background have to offer those from more technical streams, and vice versa.
Coming from the technical stream, but with high levels of business knowledge, are Sutton, RACV CIO Charles Burgess, WorkCover Queensland GM IT Lynn Kincade, and BankWest GM IT and CIO Joe Deragon.
From the business stream we have Defence Department CIO Patrick Hannan, CSR CIO Ole Elsaesser and Balfour, all of whom have had time to learn an awful lot about technology.
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