Follow the money

FRAMINGHAM (11/18/2003) - Q: Recently, the CFO of our company asked me if I would like to accept a position in our accounting department. The responsibilities are not yet known. I currently have more than 20 years of experience in IT, ranging from IBM systems programming to management of IT infrastructure (mainframe, midrange, NT, telephony, voice and data network, security, and so on). I have applications experience in implementing SAP and PeopleSoft. My background is well rounded in operations, applications and management. Would a move into a user area of accounting help or hinder my desire to become a CIO?

A: I think a move into accounting can be helpful to your pursuit of a CIO role, provided you are given substantial responsibilities that include project management. Since IT and finance are so tightly aligned in companies, you will no doubt increase your knowledge and understanding of how your company works, and you will develop additional business relationships. More and more, CIOs today have had prior stints in business management; therefore, being knowledgeable and conversant in a core business function is a plus as you compete for the CIO role in the marketplace.

-Beverly Lieberman, President of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates

What Are They Saying?

Q: I recently took over the director of finance role for the e-commerce division of a Fortune 500 retailer. I have an investment banking background and have very limited exposure to technology. We clearly treat IS as a siloed cost center. I see this as an opportunity worth improving. I've reached out to my counterpart in IS but feel like we are two people with a common goal speaking different languages. Are there any "technology for nontechnology managers" books, courses or seminars to help me bridge this gap?

A: Trying to understand the "technospeak" of information technology can be a challenge for new folks like you who are just recently exposed to the field. I suggest looking into specialty areas, such as software, networking, infrastructure, architecture and operations, all of which have associated member organizations, publications and newsletters. In addition, many industries have IT publications and associations focused exclusively on their particular needs--retail is one of them. Approach your CIO and find out what retail and IT-related publications he would recommend to help you get up to speed.

-Gerry McNamara, Partner of Heidrick & Struggles

Editor's note: Two of our online resources may be of some help--CIO.com's Executive Summaries for fast insight into complicated subjects and our sister publication Darwinmag.com, which aims to explain technology to the nontechnology executive.

The Technology Gap

Q: I have 10 years of business experience in a top investment banking company. The past four years have been primarily directed toward establishing a departmentwide technology strategy, building a Web development team and implementing a global data warehouse. I have an MBA from a top-20 school. I am looking to move into a CIO role in the next three to five years. Recruiters tell me they like my background but think I need more technical experience. Given my background, is it better for me to focus my work experience on technology areas or pursue a master's in MIS, or both?

A: I believe you have the best educational credential you need to be successful as a CIO. Your top-ranked MBA says that you are a bright, business-focused individual. An additional postgraduate degree is unnecessary; you would be better served by using available time to attend seminars and conferences oriented toward topical concepts and practical applications of technology. Regarding your experience going forward, the advice given to you by recruiters implies that you did not come up through the technical ranks of programming and systems. If that's the case, you should spend time in rotational assignments to gain firsthand exposure--in a leadership role, not technical--to those facets of the IT function you have not yet had a chance to experience. In that way, you can round out your exposure in preparation for that CIO position.

-Mark Polansky, Managing Director and Member of the Advanced Technology Practice at Korn/Ferry International

Rewarding Versus Rewards

Q: I am contemplating taking an IS director position in a school system. If I go into the educational field, will I be able to jump back into the private sector? What challenges are there in the educational field from an IS perspective?

A: A move into the educational field can be rewarding. However, the budget constraints, especially in the public school system, can be limiting in terms of IT investment. If you are highly motivated to make this change, I believe you will be able to move back into the private sector after a few years, provided that what you have been doing for the school system is mainstream in nature and will translate into the business world's problem-solving needs.

-B.L.

Too Late to Move?

Q: I have 15 years of experience, including 10 in manufacturing. About five years ago, I made the switch into IT. Since then I have been managing various application development groups. I have an engineering background and an MBA. Where do I go from here? I like IT, but am I starting my career all over? What are the basics I should be putting in my toolbox to be a CIO someday?

A: It clearly sounds like you are on the right track. You essentially started a new career path five years ago when you combined new applications development skills with your experience in manufacturing. Additionally, your academic credentials of an engineering baccalaureate and an MBA are ideal, especially in a manufacturing company. Going forward, you should seek out projects within the applications development function that round out your business exposure, be it in finance, sales and marketing, value chain or operations. Also pursue assignments and opportunities to get significant exposure to infrastructure and networking as well as additional leadership experience in resource management, budgeting, portfolio management, IT governance and the like. And at the highest level, keep an eye focused on "The Top Ten" attributes (find the link at www.cio.com/printlinks) that my clients look for in CIO candidates.

-M.P.

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