You'd think that all that CIOs did all day was comparison shop for new tech products.
We're used to the fact that tech publications presumably viewed by CIOs are splattered with tech-focused articles, vendor announcements, and related stories. Of course that's the way they are funded and the rationale for vendors buying advertising. Just to rub it in, some say that the CIO can't be a tech lightweight: if they skimp on their tech foundations, they may have no future.
At the same time, however, to impress their CEOs, they should become trusted business strategists, speak the language of business, get involved in the business, and prepare for the future. A further puzzlement: according to some, the CIO's degree of influence is falling, but to others, the CIO influence is rising. Job postings for CIOs can compound confusion - check this required background for a CIO for a mid-sized company (1500 employees): "Working knowledge of web related tools and website design and management. Demonstrated in-depth knowledge and experience with IT portfolio management, systems applications and IT services lifecycle management, broadcast/media services projects lifecycle management, voice and video communications, IT, information privacy and security laws, compliance, and best practices." And don't get me started about the confidential CIO search e-mail I just received that wanted a CIO with Citrix and MSCE certifications.
So what's a dazed and confused CIO to do with a time-limited day and a desire to maintain resume attractiveness? Believe in all of this tech dweebness? Take a refresher course on website tools and design? Make sure they've read the Microsoft weekly patch updates? Internalize the breaking news about AT&T's iPhone upgrade policy? Or whether Microsoft LINQ can save development time?
Or should they just ignore all that tactical stuff and saturate their brains with the business of the firm? Let's get real. If you manage an organization of people, unless you intend to do their jobs for them, chances are you are not going to have 'demonstrated in-depth knowledge and experience' of any of the above. The fact is, your in-depth knowledge of technology began to rust the day you moved into management. And in reality, a finance, quality, or other senior manager with excellent problem solving and people skills may be viewed as just as good a candidate for CIO in many firms as the CIO with certifications and 'working' or 'hands-on' knowledge.
I would argue that if the CIO's influence is falling, it is because well-meaning folks are wasting their time trying to keep up with the tech overload spewing forth from vendors and through publications optimistically targeting CIOs. Instead, CIOs should spend their time hiring good staffers who can manage projects through to completion, forming excellent relationships (and contracts) with tech providers, including contractors and consultants, and then going to meetings and listening and learning what issues and opportunities exist in the business that could be tackled with technology. And vendors and publications should make a much more concerted effort to help them.
Sure, anyone in the company is equally likely to hear those same issues and opportunities. Maybe they'll even have the same buzzword level of current tech knowledge as the CIO. But what makes the CIO different is a combination of an interest in and knowledge of business combined with ability and experience to implement solutions through talented people - and through the lens of those people's knowledge of technology.
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