by David Chan

CIOs need education rather than training

Sep 04, 20113 mins

You would not ask a car mechanic to design a car, yet many people in IT leadership positions have been promoted because of their technical excellence and then asked to direct an IT organisation to deliver business value.

This is in essence the issue with CIO, or Information Leader, education.

Unlike medicine where specialists can go for Fellowships of their respective Royal Colleges, Information Leaders have no clearly mapped out educational route to help them develop.

The presumption is that technical training and experience is sufficient to equip the Information Leader for future challenges.

The Information Leader’s role has become more complex and, as the enterprise evolves to meet new challenges, more critical.

Such changes represent both opportunities and threats, yet our provision for developing the next generation of Information Leaders has not developed in pace with the evolving challenges.

Unlike some dissenting voices such as Nick Carr and Jem Askenazy, I do believe that there is a future role for the CIO. I believe strongly that enterprises need leaders who understand information and information technology.

Most organisations are critically dependent on their IT systems and few organisations can survive, never mind thrive, if they get their IT wrong.

It may be argued that an IT presence in the leadership team will not be required in the future. The millennial generation (those who were born after 1985) has grown up used to the ubiquity of computers and information technology.

When Millennials become business leaders, they will be so familiar with information and information technology that they will no longer require a specialist to articulate demand, envisage the possibilities and deliver the strategy.

This is indeed an argument that has some persuasive power.

However, information is pervasive across all enterprises. The effective enterprise is one that can effectively exploit its information to improve efficiency and deliver products and services to its customers.

Also, the enterprise’s external environment rapidly changes and therefore the enterprise needs to adapt to external changes through changing its own capabilities.

This could be called innovation or business change programmes, but at the heart of all such changes is the ability to manage changes to business-as-usual.

This is where the Information Leader has a future role as the Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Change Officer. Few other functional disciplines focus on managing change and this places IT professionals in a prime position to take on such a role.

Like the CFO, the CIO has responsibilities over the enterprise but unlike the CFO, IT has the disciplines to manage programmes and projects that change business-as-usual.

So how should the IT professional prepare for these future roles? They could consider an executive MBA-like course taught by practitioners as well as academics, providing students with different perspectives so that they can become situational leaders.

They need to think like a businessman, a regulator, a strategist, a programme manager, a risk analyst or an innovation manager, when required. This is not about certification but education.

David Chan is director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University London

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