C-level aspirants may fit to a T

If you believe the pundits then technology-steeped IT managers who aspire to the role of CIO may miss their mark.

In fact the transition from a tech-savvy background to CIO isn't an easy one, due to lack of business acumen or a sales and marketing background.

While IT professionals have a thorough understanding of IT infrastructure and boast unquestionable technical skills, they may not be able to converse about business matters on the same level as senior management.

Jeff Knowles, NSW manager for IT recruitment firm Ambit, believes not all IT managers want the C-level title.

The bottom line is, do you want to do the talk and walk the walk, speaking the same language as the CFO?

If serious about securing the CIO title, Knowles said the focus has to shift to business.

He said IT managers enjoy complete technical control and can use this as a springboard to the executive suite, but technical knowledge is not the key attribute of a successful CIO.

"People skills and a strategic approach to business are the real focus, and they can be acquired," he said.

"IT managers tend to be more 'hands on', but CIOs are far more strategic and although they have an understanding of IT architecture they rarely use their technical skills; a more suitable title [to aspire to] may be the CTO."

InTEP program manager for IDC, Peter Hind, said the CIO needs a fundamental understanding of IT but more importantly, of business.

"Someone from a traditional IT background might be ignorant of the challenges within the role of CIO; there is the danger of trivialising challenges," he said.

"You need someone to bring a rounded experience to the role, of which there are not many around, to show the organization that as a CIO you understand the needs and requirements of the business. That's more than you get from an IT qualification."

As for titles, Hind reckons they don't carry much authority in Australia.

"Even though it might come with the position, a title such as CIO, CTO or even MD only gives you the confidence to bat; you still have to earn the respect of your employers and staff," he said.

"The amusing thing is that in Australia, no one thinks you have authority just because you have assumed a title.''

Sue Mortimer, information manager with a multinational company for 15 years, which she asked not be named, said IT managers don't necessarily make great leaders.

"They provide practical solutions for business partners to meet objectives not management strategies, but the groundwork is a trait that would make a good CIO," she said.

"It is a personal thing but as long as the IT manager is continually improving their understanding of business as well as their understanding of the industry then a transition to a role like that of a CIO would benefit not only the staff but the company as a whole.''

Dare to assume

COMMENT: Sandra Rossi

Should one dare assume that an IT manager naturally aspires to the role of CIO? Is it really a fair assumption to make that the pinnacle of an IT exec's career resides in the boardroom?

While the experts are quick to point out that IT managers with such lofty ambitions may not make the grade, I'm betting there are a few IT execs unwilling to make the change (even if it was handed to them on a silver platter).

Sure we all enjoy the sweet smell of boardroom mahogany, but if it means salivating over Excel spreadsheets all day and ogling financial reports I'm not so sure that's the career highlight some IT professionals had in mind.

An IT career doesn't require a burning passion for technology but when selecting IT there had to be a smidgen of interest in the mechanics of computing - you know the nuts-and-bolts stuff that makes a non-believer's eyes glaze over. Keeping that in mind, one can assume IT managers enjoy their hands-on role within their organizations and prefer hard drives to profit margins. This does not mean an IT manager without an eye on the CIO title isn't ambitious. No siree, just selective. Or possibly more suited to the role of CTO or one of the myriad other titles out there in the world of IT.

One thing this industry isn't lacking is titles, there are almost as many job titles as there are acronyms. What can we assume about the aspirations of an IT manager? Drop me an e-mail sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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