Breaking the Bubble

Networking should mean more to CIOs than just connecting PCs; it’s a way of building relationships and gaining different viewpoints and ideas on technology and organizational issues. Far too many CIOs fail to see the value of taking the time to talk to peers and outside contacts, and maintaining a network of people they can call on.

Why is networking important? Let me give just three of the many reasons: it will assist in taking your career to the next level; help you to learn how to get buy-in from executives in your company; and will prevent you from being a CIO (Career Is Over) statistic. Many CIOs won’t start networking until they need a job, a favour or information. But for networking to work well, it must be a continuous and mutually beneficial process.

There are different types of networking. Internal networking is done in-house, with your organization’s peers, senior executives and board members. External networking is done within the industry with other CIOs, through organizations such as the CIO Association of Canada and other non-IT related organizations.

Internal networking opportunities occur when CIOs discuss issues with their peers, get information through the grapevine, and try out new ideas before taking them to a steering committee. Internal networking is key to a CIO who needs to build relationships to get projects approved and to implement changes, both of which can only be done with the co-operation of the business-line managers. As one CIO told me, “Marketing managers are the best people to network with internally, as they provide early heads-up on upcoming corporate initiatives.”

External networking in-volves establishing contacts outside your organization. This can be done through attending conferences, publishing articles and participating in organizations such as the CIO Association of Canada. (Check out www.ciocanada.net.)

Through external networking, CIOs can find out about best practices, projects, consultants, new technologies, licensing agreements, etc. Failure to network externally may result in the “invented here” syndrome, where a technology initiative suffers through a lack of learning from others’ experiences.

External networking is difficult when you take a job in a new town, as I found out when I moved from Toronto. to Vancouver nine years ago. At first, I kept phoning my Toronto networking contacts to discuss initiatives and ask: “Have you done this or that and how did it work?” Eventually, I got to know some CIOs locally and I started the CIO Association of BC so that other CIOs would have an easier time finding opportunities.

There are plenty of opportunities to network. They all involve sharing ideas, best practices, learning from each other’s experiences and mistakes, and building relationships that CIOs can call on when they’re in need of a fresh point of view.

Catherine Aczel Boivie is senior vice-president, IT for Pacific Blue Cross.

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