The pathway to becoming CIO

The 12 participants of the 2015 Strategic CIO programme with faculty members Michael Myers and Cecil Chua.

For CIOs, it is important to have a leadership bench for people who can take over their role when they move to another role within the organisation or outside.

At the same time, there may be mid-career IT professionals who aspire to be a CIO.

The common thread linking them is where to get the training for people who want to go on a CIO career path.

These are some of the drivers that led University of Auckland to offer the Strategic CIO Programme.

The seven-month programme is open to 12 participants who are sponsored by their respective organisations.

Darilyn Kane, executive education manager, at the University of Auckland, says before this programme, what was available for people who want to take this path was an MBA.

The program is for people who want to step into a more senior role, but with a focus on the IT function, she says.

Kane says most of the participants in the current program have a technical background or are in an IT function role.

As participants go through the program, they will work with an internal sponsor and identify a strategic initiative in the organisation.Darilyn Kane, University of Auckland

She says in choosing the group, she looks at what each person will contribute to the knowledge. It is also important for them to have a diverse experience because they will share that with each other.

Related: How I became a CIO: Jason Millett and Kevin Angland share their journey

Theory and practice

“We are focused on a practical activity that has an impact on the individual and the organisation.”

As participants go through the program, they will work with an internal sponsor and identify a strategic initiative in the organisation.

In the final module, they will present a business case on it. “Basically, they will present recommendations for something that will be implemented so there is some real value returned quickly within the organisation.”

When they present the business case towards the end of the course, it is also practice for them when they present to their executive team.

“It was important to do it this way so they can apply their learnings in their own organisations as they go along. It is really integrated to what they are doing in the business,” says Kane.

Kane says each participant is also matched up with a faculty or a practitioner who will be their mentor. “The role of the mentor is to challenge them, really push their thinking around their initiatives, and really get them to think differently.”

She says the university likewise brings C-suite executives to speak to the participants. These include CIOs who talk about how they got into the role and what they think the future looks like.

The speakers have included David Kennedy, a digital strategy and security consultant who was former CIO of Orion Health; Jonathan Mason, former Fonterra CFO and now an independent corporate director; Tony Carter, former Foodstuffs CEO; and Brett Roberts, formerly with Callaghan Innovation and now with Datacom.

As to the challenge the participants say they face at work, Kane says the top one is “speed of change”.

“No matter what you are doing in the business, it is speed of change,” she says, and this issue “is just huge in the IT area”.

Kane says the participants also discussed the ICT leaders’ challenge of “being across everything that is going on”.

“There is the challenge around keeping your IT running but also have to be aware what is likely to be happening in the future. How can they become a really strategic part of the business as opposed to being just operational support?”

She says some CIOs who have spoken to the group were frank about the nuances of the role. They tell them the CIO role is “really a challenging job, you really have got to want to do this”.

“Often you only get noticed when things go wrong,” says Kane, quoting the speakers. “When things work perfectly, day to day, people don’t say anything. No one says ‘thank you very much’. As soon as emails do not go up, people start complaining.”

She says the university is forming an advisory group of senior CIOs to advise on the content of the course. This group will be meeting every quarter.

“We are really lucky that we have connections with people who are generous with their time and happily share openly with the group about their experience,” she says.

The programme is part of the university’s goal to help build senior leadership capability for New Zealand businesses, she concludes.

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