CIO: Career or Profession?

By Tom Trainer

(Back to article)

I have loved every one of my years in the IT business, which, to give you an idea of how long that's been, was called EDP, or electronic data processing, when I started in 1966. But lately I have come to realize that I had a career, not a profession. By definition, a profession implies such things as certification, global standards, and formal education. And, for those CFOs and CMOs who are successful enough, an automatic invitation into the ranks of upper management.


What about you? How automatic was your acceptance into the executive ranks as an equal? Thought so.


Those of us who have made the leap to upper management are, in all humility, self-made successes in that we had no formal training in how to succeed as a senior executive within large corporations. For me, that formal training didn’t exist 40 years ago. And, shamefully, it still doesn't exist today.


To illustrate the point, let's compare finance and IT. Finance is a profession in the strictest sense of the word. Finance professionals have been educated and trained in the fundamentals of how to do finance "stuff" properly and are certified as having achieved by a global standard of accomplishment. Finance is finance. CFOs around the world don't make it up as they go along. Whatever type of finance you choose to specialize in, your fundamentals remain the same.


And how about physicians? How would you like to be on the operating room table and have the doctor say that he had dreamed up a new way of operating on a patient, and oh, by the way, that patient is you? No way, you say. Medicine is medicine. Once again, fundamental practices rule.


How, then, can we seriously refer to IT people as professionals when the management science of business technology has been missing all this time? We have had to essentially practice it with the best of intentions, but by no means have we had access to accepted fundamentals, as are in present in the recognized professions.


We have at best been artists then, and in a great many cases we have been doing a phenomenal job. But, in its current state, it is a stretch to call what we do truly a profession.


As I reflect on those currently maneuvering their way through this journey, I realize they will have perhaps a more complete set of skills and perspectives than I have had. I’m convinced that technology leaders of the future will also be pragmatic and do the following to succeed:


I truly believe the challenges ahead reside not in the technology itself, but in its management. We’re starting to get it right, but we have a way to go. I am convinced that it’s no longer enough to talk about aligning technology with the business. We must create environments in which technology helps shape strategic choices.


This means we must synchronize business and technology decision making. And if we are to be best-in-class, our technology will converge with the business as completely as say, sound financial management. Thus, the path of progress will move from alignment to synchronization to true convergence. And, as the best practices inherent in this transformation are institutionalized and widely adopted, the business technology executive will find what had been a career becoming a profession.


Tom Trainer is a well-recognized and awarded leader in the business technology field. He currently serves as Executive Chairman of BTM Global 2000, a subsidiary of BTM Corporation. Throughout the course of his 40-year career, which includes holding the title of CIO at PepsiCo, Citigroup, Eli Lilly, Reebok International, and Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Tom has earned a long list of credits including receipt of InformationWeek's CIO of the Year and CIO magazine's "Quintessential CIO" for his vision and leadership. He is a frequent speaker, and contributing author on The Alignment Effect and a co-author of Winning The 3-Legged Race.