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CIO: It’s Not A Dead-End Job After All

For many years, there’s been an interesting joke that the CIO position is a dead-end role.  Some have even suggested that the acronym means Career Is Over.

Recently, I have even seen several LinkedIn discussions that have insinuated that if a CIO does not eventually make it into a COO or CEO role, that they have somehow failed.  I could find this all amusing if, in fact, it wasn’t such a prevailing viewpoint.  

(It really makes you wonder how many glass ceilings are hanging over the head of a minority, female CIO in Corporate America today…)

Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, the CIO role is not only challenging, but very rewarding.  The CIO, particularly in a larger organization, gets the benefit of looking across the entire business to see the interaction of all the parts.  This is a vantage point that is shared by only a few, such as the CEO and sometimes the COO.  The CIO tends to have the most diverse staff, especially when outsourcing is involved.  This requires considerable management ability.  Additionally, he or she needs to have a handle on business issues that are more encompassing that any one General Manager or Senior Business Executive in the organization might have.

In the 21st century, the nature of business is such that technology has both tactical and strategic implications for most companies, and as such, the skills needed to manage that tension between short-term and long-term interests, and to foster innovation that will serve the organization over the long-haul, are not every-day skills possessed by everyone with an SVP or EVP title.

Another thing to consider is that CIO is no more a dead-end job than CFO is.  A person who seeks to master the CIO role with ever greater challenges in ever larger organizations can only be considered a failure using the most narrow of criteria.  Everyone doesn’t have to want to become CEO.  After all, there are only so many of those roles to be had, and an organization without a good CIO will fail just as readily as an organization without a good CFO or CEO.

While other members of the CxO suite might be ready to scoff at the notion of a CIO transitioning to COO or even CEO, the fact remains that a good CIO develops a broader set of skills, and maintains a more objective perspective of the business than almost all other persons reporting to the CEO.

Many businesses that have been slow to give willing and capable CIOs an opportunity to wear another CxO hat, have been presumptuous enough to allow any other CxO to attempt to run the Information Technology function, because there seems to be a very misguided notion that information technology is pretty easy to manage and can be handled adequately by any business person.

(For those who believe that this is true, you might want to take a look at The Unspoken Truth About Managing Geeks, which I will post about at a later time.)

Senior leadership that operates in this fashion continues to perpetuate an Us vs. Them mentality within their organization between members of IT and all other business units.   This also leads to statements such as “IT is just there to serve the business” which is only partially true.   All departments of an organization are there to facilitate the goals of that organization either directly or indirectly.  This is just as true of HR, Accounting and Legal as it is of IT. 

The acquisition of revenue is only one of the goals of an organization, and should rarely be the primary one, even if it is an important one.  There is a subtle, but important, distinction in having an organization that serves some purpose, and makes money doing so, vs. an organization which has a primary goal of making money, and a secondary goal of providing some benefit to others.  You’d be amazed at how very loose the ethics of the second entity can be because of the nature of their focus on revenue.  But, I digress. 

The CIO role is one that should be valued and respected, especially in industries that need to use technology to create competitive advantage, and drive or facilitate innovation for the business.  It is a role that affords its holder with skills (including soft skills) that can be used effectively in other aspects of the business.  Finally, it is a role that because of all the change that continues to occur within the technology landscape, provides ongoing challenges to its owner, giving him or her more than enough opportunity for growth without moving to another role.

Let’s stop pretending that the CIO role is a temporary, stop-gap on the way to hopefully becoming a CEO, and recognize the value, necessity, and significance of the CIO role. 

Let’s stop perpetrating the negative stereotypes of IT and the CIO.

Let’s stop insinuating that CIOs just love playing with technology and don’t really understand the business, or are ill-equipped to speak the language of business.  

Let’s stop saying things like “IT and the business” which implies that IT is not part of the business, and that the CIO is operating some shadow company within the larger organization (hey, doesn’t that make him or her a CEO of sorts?)

Instead, let’s recognize the significant contribution and value brought to the table by the CIO and provide him or her with the executive support needed to assist the organization in fulfilling its mission in the most timely and cost-effective manner possible. 

You can help CIO mean: Career Is Outstanding

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Posted: Friday, September 11, 2009 5:00 AM by Logik!

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About Logik!

Andrew S. Baker aka ASB aka Logik!

Andrew S. Baker is a business-savvy, hands-on IT leader with expertise in mentoring people, mitigating risk, and integrating technology to drive innovation and maximize business results. He creates competitive advantage for organizations through effective IT leadership: implementation of processes and controls, and architecture of robust business solutions.

Mr. Baker has successfully led a number of high-performance technology teams in designing, deploying and maintaining secure, cost-effective computing environments for well-known companies, including Warner Music Group, The Princeton Review, Bear Stearns, About.com, and Lewco Securities.

For over a decade, Andrew has exhibited thought leadership on technology and business topics via mailing lists, technical forums, blogs, and professional networking groups, along with contributions to podcasts, webinars, and over 20 technical/business magazine articles. He also serves on several boards and committees for non-profit organizations, and within the Seventh-day Adventist church.

His personal interests include Astronomy, Basketball, Bible Study, Chess, Comics, Computers, Family Life Ministries, Reading, Strategy/Role Playing games, and Professional Networking...

A summary of Andrew's current résumé is available here, and he can be reached on a variety of social and professional networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.