Answers on How to Become a CIO

Thanks to all who posted responses to the online version of this column. Several readers questioned the basic premise of the article: Why is moving out of IT and into “the business” a good thing? Here is a sampling of the comments:“My perspective is that we are all businesspeople; we just bring different skills to the table,” wrote Brent Stahlheber, executive VP and CIO of The Auto Club Group (AAA). “Stating what we can do to move from our technology position assumes that we do not have a critical role in leading business change.” Or as Arun Gupta, an IT exec at Pfizer India, commented, “Do we have stories of other functions aspiring to the CIO shoes? Are we negating the value the CIO brings to the organization?”

Soon after I read these comments, I was talking with Tom McLain, VP of IT for Old Mutual Asset Management in Boston. He has recently added operations to his purview.

I asked him why. “Operations gives me a different perspective of the organization,” McLain says. “I learn new skills and I get to diversify my responsibilities from the tactical intensity of leading IT.”

New skills and less stress. These sound like solid reasons to make a move. But I suspect there is another factor driving CIOs out of IT: Moving into the business validates your existence as a businessperson delivering real value to your company. So what will it take to raise IT out of its second-class status?

Emmanuel Ramos, a former CIO, says that as long as the phrase “IT and the business” exists in corporate parlance, the dichotomy and hierarchy will persist. So he has focused on rebranding. “We need to start thinking of ourselves as businesspeople who happen to deal with a technology function rather than the other way around,” he wrote. “In my previous CIO posts, I have strived to brand the technology group as the ‘Business Technology’ group rather than IT in order to educate my peers about [our role] in the business.”

Try a little branding experiment of your own. Identify some linguistic instances that distance IT from the business and jettison them from the language of your company. Re-title a technical position or two, rebrand an IT project, rename your IT organization. Deploy the changes into corporate-speak and see how they influence the perception of IT’s business function.

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