Our Secret CIO, John McGreavy, answers questions from our readers.
Dear John: I am a 54-year-old, tech-savvy leader in my field, and I aspire to be more. Since the dawn of information technology, I have studied and watched the industry with great interest. During that time, I also raised a family, cultivated a marriage of 24 years, and became an expert in the packaging industry. I have led teams of individuals as small as seven and as large as 125. Can you point me in the right direction as to resources or education I might require to break into a CIO position? I also have a bachelor's degree in communications.--Looking for Guidance
Dear Looking for Guidance:
I assume you didn't grow up in the IT industry, that your core professional knowledge lies outside of IT. You want to move into an executive IT C-level position at a mature stage in your career.
I'll brush off the initial "good luck with that" reaction and suggest that your objective can indeed be realized. But consider the following:
Problem 1: Effective CIOs must balance IT knowledge and business acumen. You have the latter, not the former. While you may understand the business implications of technology, your weakness will be in motivating and managing IT staff and their supplier organizations. If you don't understand their pain points and struggles, as well as their professional development needs, you won't get their respect.
Problem 2: You don't mention your job history, but if you have been with the same organization for some time, you're likely typecast. You see yourself as a packaging industry expert, with no reference to IT. Your current credentials are a hindrance to your goal of becoming CIO. How many IT organizations pine for a CIO who hasn't a clue about their jobs, interests, and challenges?
Problem 3: Just how tech savvy are you? Are you on Facebook for more than creeping your kids' pages? Do you understand the latest shop flooring scheduling technologies? Is Hana really the database of the future? How much unstructured data does your company process? What do you think of Jive? Java? Radian6? Have you worked through a data security breach or an e-discovery process? Are cloud services truly sent from heaven? CIOs must be current with technologies as they impact the enterprise. Showing everyone the Star Walk app on your iPad won't cut it.
Consider the following advice:
Work on what you can influence. In your current role, to demonstrate credibility with IT professionals:
>> Start a special project that will require IT capabilities. Get hands-on with the work, and learn from the IT experts who are involved.
>> Take on IT development work yourself, on your own time. Build an iOS application or two.
>> Spend time with your own IT department. Find out what IT staffers do.
>> Read the terms and conditions of all of the click-through agreements you accept.
>> Develop a voracious appetite for industry information, gleaned from seminars, trade publications, research firms, and the like. Spend your nights and weekends reading about our industry. It will all add up.
Longer term, consider moving to a smaller company within your industry and changing jobs, in a role closer to what you're now looking for. A smaller company will value your broad experience; in exchange, you want influence and/or direct control over some aspect of technology. From then on, you can begin to develop your CIO-in-training credentials.
Don't jump to conclusions about being tech savvy too quickly. You likely mean that you have a fascination with and interest in how applied technology solves business problems and creates value. But liking music and becoming a professional musician are entirely different things. Every IT pro I know is tech savvy and loves technology, but few of them will ever become CIOs. Let's translate this tech interest into understanding.
>> Attend local CIO panels/conferences and establish relationships with CIOs. Set up a few lunches with the ones you meet, and talk with them about their strategies and priorities.
>> Establish contact with key IT vendors. Few vendors turn down the opportunity to meet with a potential purchasing influencer. You'll be amazed at what you can learn from vendors, including CIO opportunities.
>> Get to the packaging industry conferences, find the IT vendors there, and immerse yourself in their products.
>> Look for opportunities to present your views on IT innovation in your industry. There's no better teacher than the process of teaching itself. Think about presenting your emerging CIO ideas to an audience.
Nothing compels an individual to achieve a goal like believing in it. Start behaving like the CIO you wish to be.
The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, offers advice to readers under the pseudonym John McGreavy, Share this story and read others by him at informationweek.com/johnmcgreavy. Need career advice or have a technical, business, or organizational problem to solve? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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