Alignment: Hiring the Right CIO - Page 2

Sep 17, 2007

Steve O'Connor

Unfortunately, many CIOs have come up through the ranks of computing and MIS without learning how to manage a full operating business. While fellow executives may be exposed to a range of other business functions over the course of their professional development, the typical IT executive may be confined to the somewhat narrow, albeit difficult and complex, world of IT. And, in the CIO post, the resulting skills deficit may suddenly become glaring.

IT’s increasing importance is bound to make this mismatch even more glaring. Take the growing emphasis on customer experience, for instance the drive to make every interaction with customers as frictionless, distinctive, and compelling as possible. These days, with the Web, mobile devices, and automated call centers, and all such critical touch-points IT pretty much is the front office.

IT is critical to finance, product development, and manufacturing. Through technologies like CRM, IT is reshaping the sales process as well. Clearly, the CIO who doesn’t understand these aspects of the business is the CIO who’s likely to have trouble keeping IT “aligned” with that business.

Hiring for Success

Solving this problem is not as easy as just hiring a seasoned businessperson instead of a career technologist as CIO. Should such a person fail to learn and stay abreast of IT’s fast-changing landscape, he or she will likely be unable to gain the respect and loyalty of IT managers, thereby limiting IT’s effectiveness in delivering value to other business units.

The first step in hiring the right CIO is to focus on identifying the precise set of skills that will be required to be successful in this role. Then, all executives in the organization must agree on this set so that as each one interviews a candidate he or she can evaluate them against a common set of criteria.

One possible source of candidates might be senior management at a technical services company, or perhaps a chief operating officer or general manager of a large business unit. The CIO’s job has come to resemble that of a supply-chain manager in such a firm as they both struggle to match multiple, shifting sources of supply against complex and ever-changing customer demand.

Both call for a solid grasp of product development, customer delivery, and other operational issues. Both require some understanding of the financial drivers affecting suppliers and customers. Executives from technical services companies are familiar with this way of thinking and they’re used to putting together effective portfolios of services. What’s more, they’re used to talking to customers.

Now, it may not be possible to find people matching exactly this set of criteria. But it’s important to be clear with whoever is hired that this set of skills is what’s expected of him or her. And it’s against these expectations that they will be judged. As a result, when any missing skills or competencies are identified a development plan must be quickly put in place. This might take the form of professional development courses, or perhaps mentoring from fellow line-of-business executives. Any variable compensation should be tied to this personal development.

During the last decade, the function and value of IT has moved to the forefront of just about every business. Hiring or grooming the most qualified person to run it should receive similar attention.

Steve O'Conner is the founder and SVP of ITM Software, an IT business management solutions provider. Previously, he was CIO of companies such as Silicon Graphics.

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