What’s next after hitting the CIO glass ceiling?

Ask any CIO if this is where they thought they’d end up, and a funny look comes across their face. Not only is their career nothing like they planned, but there might be a moment where they wonder how they ever wound up becoming a chief information officer.

They may have shown an early interest

in technology. They might have even started as programmers. But until recently there was little reason to shoot for a title that few people understand, and only a small (but growing) number of people respect.

In September, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance released the results of a survey that aimed to “”map”” the role of CIOs against the maturity of their organization. There weren’t a lot of responses, perhaps because only 165 CIOs felt they could adequately measure their organization’s maturity. Those that filled the survey out said they see themselves “”moving out of the basement and into the boardroom,”” CATA said, “”becoming a key figure in purchasing decisions, operational strategy and even marketing and sales.”” This level of engagement corresponded, not surprisingly, to the maturity level of the organization. If you’re established enough to have experienced many IT failures, you’ve probably figured out that the CIO needs to be involved in everything.

As someone who has had to draft job descriptions for my human resources department, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to define the CIO’s role today. Years ago it probably looked like a glorified form of network administration, with some staffing authority and a budget thrown in. Today, many of the skill sets would probably match that of senior executives in departments such as finance and operations.

The most important part of a job description, however, is not merely an overview of that person’s responsibilities, but a guide to the development path someone in that role might follow. In other words, unless you’re the CIO, you should have somewhere to move. While the CATA survey indicates CIOs have become more welcome in the executive suite, one wonders if there is only one chair they are destined to occupy.

Eugene Roman, who occupied one of the highest-profile CIO positions in the country at Bell Canada, recently moved on to become group president, systems and technology, which sounds like the exact same thing. Others might take on more of a higher-level project management role as a director or senior vice-president. Many simply seem to leave, presumably to escape from their technology pigeonhole.

Given the level of change they introduce into an organization, there are a number of options that could be open to CIOs, if only they know how to identify them. We’ll likely see many CIOs move on to as director of global alliances, becoming the point person who manages an array of outsourcing and vendor relationships. Depending on the company and industry, we’re already starting to see those with CIO-like roles specialize in a specific set of applications, for instance as vice-president of e-commerce strategy for a national bank. I have written before about the movement of some CIOs into security-specific areas of responsibility as chief security officer, a title that even those in the job admit will probably not exist in five years.

Maturity tends to come in stages, and although CIOs have made progress they are only beginning to see through the glass ceiling sitting above their heads. Like many of us who were asked too early what we wanted to be when we grew up, they still have a little more growing up to do first.

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