It seems like such an easy question: Who needs more hands-on tech skill and experience -- the CIO of a small business, a medium sized company, or a huge enterprise? But alas, like all things tech, the answer is as clear as the bottle of Pepto that all CIOs end up gulping at some point in their career.
The consensus is clearer for the enterprise CIO who most believe must be equal parts tech guru and business sage because, on the technical end, CIOs in large enterprises actually get pushed further and further away from the hands-on end of things.
“As the business grows, the IT organization also grows, adding technical specialists, project managers, business analysts, and architects,” explained Dan Shipley, data center architect for Supplies Network, a $600 million wholesale distributor of imaging and computer supplies. “All of these roles insulate the CIO from the technical details of projects.”
But, and there’s always a "but" in the tech world, isn’t there?
Tech experience and knowledge are just as vital to the large enterprise as they are at the small one. A CIO without adequate hands-on knowledge in this realm “finds themselves in project-creep hell,” said Darren Schoen, director, Technology Infrastructure at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
With a much larger staff to do all the nitty-gritty, hands-on work, “these CIOs don't find themselves cabling or configuring a single server,” said Schoen. “So, where it was important for a CIO to have that hands-on knowledge in smaller businesses because they were doing the work. Here, that knowledge is a requirement for the effective management of the department as a whole.”
The company may be little in terms of number of employees or profit count but that doesn’t necessarily mean the CIO’s work is any smaller. However, fewer resources to get the job done require some serious grit in the leader of tech. Conversely, the limitations in available equipment and software may also free them of some burdens, as well.
While small business CIOs do tend to have to roll up their sleeves more due to a smaller number of minions, “their companies tend to lack the breadth and depth of technologies that require them to become true technologists and have a detailed knowledge of pure technology,” said John Picciotto, principal, Application Modernization & Optimization at Accenture.
But (and here we are again with the infamous "but"), CIOs at small companies also must be highly innovative and chockfull of business acumen.
“A small business CIO has a lot to do -- budgets, staffing, support both end users and infrastructure,” said Schoen. “If they are not technologically fluent, and if need be, able to pitch in and do the work themselves, they will find themselves being reactive rather than proactive” and forever mired in technical problems and underserved business needs.