Grooming Future CIOs – Networking key to success

CIOs must come together and exchange information if they are to remain successful, says CIO Association of Canada president

There’s no direct path to becoming a CIO. But with new skill sets required to get the job – including business management skills – potential candidates need the right mix of formal education, work experience and networking skills.

There are a number of courses and seminars available to help aspiring CIOs gain the skills they need to take the helm – depending on how much time and money they want to invest.

Ryerson’s IT Leadership Development Program, for example, has a targeted curriculum with a limited number of students each year. The program, which has been running for the past three years, is also offered at Royal Roads University in Victoria. “IT is the business,” said James Norrie, director of the School of Information Technology Management with the Faculty of Business at Ryerson University in Toronto. “The ability to leverage competitive advantage through technology is becoming central to a business’s success.”

But you can no longer be a technocrat and survive in this business, he said. The CIO’s responsibility is to act as a bridge between business strategy and technology execution. While that ability has always been critical to a CIO’s success, it’s just now being recognized by corporate Canada that technology savvy alone doesn’t create a strategic executive. People who sit as part of the executive team of a company must have a strategic perspective, said Norrie.

The program itself has nothing to do with technology, he said. Instead, it focuses on leadership, alignment, strategy development and execution, resource management, relationship building and conflict management. It’s offered over three one-week sessions spread out over the course of a year. “We try to help people acquire new perspectives and new thoughts about how to leverage their capabilities for business,” said Norrie. “They use the time between their formal sessions to practice and apply what they’ve learned.”

There are also longer-term options, such as the Management of Technology MBA at Simon Fraser University, designed to provide technologists with the management skills required to move beyond project work into management positions.

“The program isn’t designed around CIOs, it’s more about the fundamental management of companies that are either creating or delivering or managing technologies,” said Ernie Love, dean and RBC professor of technology and innovation with SFU in Burnaby, B.C. “We do an awful lot of work around the process of ensuring you have an innovative culture within your organization [so] you can adapt to new technologies.”

Bridging the gap
There’s no question about the need for this kind of training, he said, to help bridge the gap between technology and people. “The good CIOs know how to listen well, translate technical jargon into what the user needs to hear, understand the implications of it,” he said, “and that continuum of translation seems to be so critical.”

SFU also offers short courses in this area, as well as a masters degree program in financial risk management, which teaches students how to identify and mitigate risk by coming up with alternative strategies.

These programs have done a great job in moving technologists to the next level, learning business skills in addition to technology, said Catherine Aczel Boivie, CIO of Pacific Blue Cross in Vancouver and president of The CIO Association of Canada. The association’s mandate is to facilitate cross-country networking and sharing of best practices among CIOs. It provides professional development opportunities, promotes alignment of business and IT strategies, and encourages the advancement of technology through educational scholarships. “To become a CIO, it’s not just a formal education, but also establishing an informal network you can draw on for past experiences,” said Boivie. “By the time things are printed in a book, it’s too late for us. We need to learn from each other.”

The association, which has 130 members across Canada, offers monthly e-seminars, and members choose the topics they’re most interested in. Members can also participate in informal events to discuss items of common interest.

“One of the ways to learn is from your peers and other CIOs,” said Boivie. “You have to know the business – there’s no ifs, ands or buts – because that’s what you’re there for. Technology is there to support the business, not the other way around.”

Continue to Part Three, Relationships still rocky.

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