by CIO Staff

Career Counsel: IT Operations vs. Strategy

Jun 15, 20019 mins
IT Leadership

Eye of the Storm

I recently took a senior IT director position at a division of a $10 billion company in another state. I sold my house and bought another one in the new location. After three months, the job has changed significantly, and it is not what I was promised. Most of my employees are being moved to corporate, and I will play a very different role. I am tied to the executive team of the division and have fit in well, but I am sure I will miss having responsibility in the day-to-day operations. Should I look for a different position? If so, would a prospective employer view my short stay as negative?

You have landed in the eye of the storm between centralization and decentralization of the IT function in a multidivisional corporation. The good news is that what you have described as the new IT structure at your company sounds like the very smart middle ground of a “federal system” of IT, where the operational aspects are centralized as a shared services function (think of it as outsourcing your data center to corporate) and the functional aspects are decentralized to lie within the domain of the business unit. If running a data center, help desk and telecommunications is what really gets you excited every morning, then you should look for a small- to medium-size corporate IT director position or a CTO role in a larger corporation with responsibility for those functions.


On the other hand, without the distraction of operations responsibility, you now have a great opportunity to focus on the strategic business-driven side of IT. So if you enjoy creating IT value with top- and bottom-line impact?through projects such as process reengineering, ERP, CRM and e-commerce?then hang in there and have a great time doing what good CIOs get paid for.

CIO Position

I’m vice president of technology and CIO for a health startup company, and I enjoy my job and work. I have the following questions: Should the CIO be involved in marketing strategies and plans, since marketing depends on software applications and systems? Should the CIO be a member of the board of directors or a partner in the company? Should the CIO be involved in business alliances and partnership talks with third-party vendors? Which one is better describing a CIO in a high-tech Internet-based company: a highly technical person with fair management skills or a less technical person with strong executive management skills?

Because the CIO should be an integral part of the corporate executive management team, it follows that the CIO should be as involved in marketing strategic planning as any other management team member. He must also be intimately involved in executing the marketing plan starting at the tactical planning level in considering, as you asserted, the necessary and enabling support provided by IT. The same goes for the CIO’s involvement in creating strategic alliances and partnerships, especially as these have a significant impact on operational issues. But leave the negotiation part of the “talks” to the business development guys who are pros at that kind of stuff.


As for CIOs sitting on corporate boards: It’s not at all common, but we are beginning to see a few CIOs on the boards of their established public companies for the first time, especially at technology-enabled companies and even more frequently on the corporate boards of technology suppliers. And most often we see CTOs sitting on the boards of privately held, startup and smaller technology and dotcom companies. If technology is to be a strategic rather than an operational factor, then I would like to see a board-level technology committee, with the same importance as the board’s nominating, compensation and audit committees, having responsibility for ensuring appropriate corporate investment in and use of technology.

As to your last question, my answer is “none of the above.” All my clients want me to find CIO/CTO candidates with strong technical and leadership expertise; anything else is a compromise. The combination of strong technology and weak leadership skills sounds like a staff job as chief architect or equivalent. A strong leader without a technological foundation should not be a CIO or CTO in my opinion.

Responsible CIOs

I am in the military and finishing up my master’s degree in information systems technology. I also have a bachelor’s degree in computer science. When it comes to a CIO’s responsibilities, how much does a top-ranked CIO get involved in the areas of financial, technical and managerial responsibility to his department?

An excellent question. Let’s look at each of these areas in turn. First, in financial matters, budgetary responsibility and control have become absolutely critical in light of the proliferation of new technologies and new ways to spend money in IT. And, in general, budgets become much more complex and demanding as the size and scope of an organization increases. In most of the largest IS departments run by the top CIOs, there is an IT controller responsibility and a permanent position on the CIO’s staff. Additionally, the requirement to initiate cost-saving and revenue-generating systems projects, whether funded by IS or by the business sponsor, demands that good CIOs understand how to craft and present a financially sound proposal however it is measured?whether by ROI, internal rate of return or some other metric.


Second, sound technical knowledge and awareness are always important for a good CIO to maintain, especially when considering strategic and architectural IT issues and decisions. As size and scope enlarge, the best CIOs will have a trusted deputy, either an in-house CTO or an outsourced vendor, to take responsibility for the day-to-day technical issues and problems so that the CIO can focus on the bigger, more business-driven decisions for IT.

Last, management?perhaps better stated as leadership?is ultimately what the CIO role is all about: creating and articulating a vision that IS and the whole enterprise will enthusiastically endorse and then leading the execution and delivery of that vision. The top-ranked CIOs know that this is where value, both personal and shareholder alike, is created.

E-Business Exposure

Is e-business a valid MBA concentration for people interested in the area from a business perspective? In my opinion, you need other skills?IT, operations, marketing?to be a successful e-business manager.

Yes, I believe that e-business is a valid MBA concentration, in the same sense that marketing or retailing is a worthwhile major for graduate studies. You are correct in saying there are many functional disciplines that compose a complete e-business model (just as is true in a traditional channel business model) and its component functions and processes, including IT and operations.


But I am assuming that an e-business MBA would include appropriate exposure to each of these and might also include a complementary minor, perhaps in technology or even in merchandising, depending on the individual’s point of interest. The key is to think of e-business from a big-picture perspective.

Five Years Out

I’m in a senior management position in the field of telecom engineering and administration, but I am looking to advance my career. What do interviewers really want to hear when they ask, “What is your five-year plan?” or “Tell me where you would like to be in five years?”

Prospective employers?first and foremost?want to hear a truthful and convincing answer so that they may gain a sense of you and your vision of who you are. Let the truth come forth, and in that way both of you can avoid a hiring mistake. If you are really looking for a company with lots of advancement potential, then say so. And if that interviewer is looking for lifetime cube dwellers, then you can rightfully shake hands and walk away.


Academic No More! Maybe.

I have more than 25 years of IT experience?17 in increasingly responsible management positions in the insurance, oil and gas industries, engineering and higher education. My previous position was CIO of a large corporation, and I have been director of IT at a major research university for almost four years. How do I stop executive search people from calling me an academic when 21 of the last 25 years have been in the private sector?

Human nature being what it is, many of my colleagues and I have a terrible habit of putting people in boxes based on first impressions and assumptions that may or may not be true. With 25 years on your odometer and having gone from CIO of a large corporation to CIO of a university with a more-than-likely significant pay cut, I admit that until you prove me wrong, I would guess you either got burned out in industry, lost your job and had difficulty replacing it, or are fulfilling your dream of finishing your career back on campus.


So the issue is not that we think of you as an academic, but that we think of you as an academic now. If you want to break through this wall, you must satisfactorily explain to the world why you went into higher education IT and why you want out after four years. Do that and you should have no problem getting back into industry in this wonderful economy.

By the way, there is currently a significant shortage of good university CIOs, particularly at Carnegie Level R-I and R-II institutions, that might present opportunities worth your consideration at some of the United States’ top schools.

Face-to-Face Value

I have been in the IT industry for eight years and have progressed from an engineering director to a professional services director. My salary is between $60,000 and $70,000. I have an opportunity to interview for a director position that pays in excess of $200,000. Should I list my salary on my rŽsumŽ?

Compensation should never appear on a rŽsumŽ since it is premature to allow this information to affect a reader’s judgment about your qualifications and credentials, and it may give rise to erroneous assumptions regarding your value based on current remuneration.


In this particular case, you appear to be significantly underpaid, and presenting your current salary?out of context and without explanation?could have a negative impact on your candidacy. Having said that, it also never pays to misrepresent salary, even verbally, since it can be easily checked in today’s data-rich and wired world. You are far better off presenting the facts just as they are and adding the proper perspective in a face-to-face interview.