Growing Tomorrow's CIOs

Technology Staff Editor
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Even as information technology becomes a more critical part of business operations, IT executives still receive scant recognition for their contributions or their vital role in the business. You might say that if CIOs' careers and influence had grown proportionately to technology itself, they would clearly be leaders of their organizations. Instead, while the history of IT as a marginalized function is relatively short compared with that of other professions, it has consistently faced problems since its insertion into business enterprises in the early 1960s. Indeed, the valuation of IT has continued to challenge executives with regard to management, accountability, and, most important, its contributions to the company. Technology personnel are often faulted for not being part of the business; they're still often stereotyped as techies and isolated from the mainstream organization. For example, in a recent Gartner survey of CEOs, more than 60% said their CIO's job was at risk. The most apparent reason for the problem is CIOs' tactical versus strategic approach to solving problems. As a result, many CIOs have difficulty influencing how technology investments are made and working with their C-level peers. No wonder annual CIO turnover rates hover at about 34%. Furthermore, we know that more than 20% of IT projects still fail to be completed and another 54% miss their anticipated completion date. At Columbia University, we set about changing all of that and fixing this apparent disconnect between IT and its corporate value. We created a Masters of Science in Executive Technology Management program in the fall of 2004, designed specifically to address the shortfalls that have occurred in the CIO community. We geared the curriculum to use industry professionals and practitioners, integrated with our faculty, as mentors. The program, offered through the School of Continuing Education, isn't for novices. It's rigorous and requires students to have at least five to seven years of experience in an IT-related position. Most are at midmanagement levels in IT and are pursuing the knowledge necessary to take the leap into executive positions. Students matriculate part-time so they can integrate the program with their experiences at work. The courses span four academic terms and require a final master's project. We aim for quality, not quantity, so the program admits a relatively low number of promising leaders?generally 25 each term. Because of the part-time nature of the program, students typically come from the New York area. As the program becomes more popular, however, we expect admissions applications from different cities and countries. The curriculum reinforces the real-world challenges and scope of being an IT executive today and prepares students for the demands of the future. Program participants are expected to develop expertise in finance, marketing, management, and short- and long-term business strategy. Our advisory board of senior executives from such companies as Goldman Sachs, Grey Healthcare Group, Sony, and Standard & Poors provide guidance on the relevant issues for executives. In sum, the program offers education in a real-world setting?unlike the training most current CIOs have received.
The question many people ask is, just what knowledge and skills are necessary to catapult a midlevel manager to the ranks of CIO? Although there isn't a secret sauce, I've studied the subject and have gotten input from CEOs and CIOs over the past five years while researching my book, Information Technology and Organizational Learning (Routledge, 2005). The book provides specific, measurable directions about what CIOs must do to become better change agents in their businesses. They can't wait for others to recognize their accomplishments. The essence of my research suggests that the solution to becoming better executives lies in changing behavior, which can be accomplished only via organizational learning techniques. Business knowledge is the most critical factor to becoming a successful IT executive. To this end, I designed a best-practice scale to show CIOs and their bosses what they must achieve to become effective technology leaders. The model, called the CIO Best-Practices Arc, is a template for assessing the business maturity of chief IT executives. It's used in the Columbia program. The arc lets you evaluate a CIO's business leadership abilities based on competencies ranging from essential knowledge in technology to more complex uses of technology in critical business thinking. It provides a method for integrating technology and business knowledge by presenting a structured approach of self-assessment and defined milestones. An abbreviated version is shown on this page. The model measures five principal facets of a CIO: cognitive skills, organization and culture, management values, business ethics, and executive presence. Each dimension or sector is measured in five stages of maturation that guide the chief IT executive's growth. The first facet requires becoming reflectively aware about one's existing knowledge about technology and what it can do for the organization. The second calls for "other-centeredness," in which CIOs become aware of the multiplicity of technology perspectives available, especially from other executives?for example, other business views of how technology can benefit the company. The third is comprehension of the technology process, in which a CIO can begin to merge technology issues with business concepts and functions. The fourth is stable technology integration, meaning that the CIO understands how technology can be used as a source of business knowledge. Stage four represents an ongoing implementation of both technology and business concepts. Finally, in the fifth stage of technology leadership, CIOs can use their judgment to develop strategic opportunities for their business. As CIOs grow in knowledge of technology and business, they become increasingly more other-centered, integrated with the business, and autonomous in the ways in which they express their executive leadership and character. The CIO Best-Practices Arc is only one of the models at the core of the Columbia University program. It's designed to educate individuals about what life is about at the executive level. The mentors of the program provide invaluable support by simply integrating their own experiences and challenging students in similar ways. (See related Q&A with Altria CIO Jim Noble.) Our program aims to help middle managers become better strategic business partners?not just get promoted. It investigates the so-called "soft skills" that managers need?important components of strategic thinking and learning in areas such as relationship building, leadership, management skills, business knowledge, and creating and managing change.

The approach gets to the core of why so many CIOs have trouble when they get close to the executive level. No longer can they depend solely on their technical abilities to perform; rather, they must apply more creative skills that call for negotiation, reflection, and an understanding of how people around them are thinking. These skills are often not self-developed, and rarely do CIOs get feedback regarding them. The arc provides a linear road map of those skills. To accomplish all of this, the students need a wide range of instructors, including professors from Columbia's Business School and School of Engineering and Applied Science as well as business executives. Most MBA programs are broader and more theoretical in their objectives. For example, our program has four distinct but integrated components. The traditional classroom teaching, which often includes case studies as the driving pedagogical experience, is just one of the four. In their first term, our students must also develop a master's project: a three-chapter integrated executive proposal on a product or service. They can select projects that relate to their professional work or to an entrepreneurial idea they have. The chapters are completed sequentially during the remaining successive terms with the assistance of a C-level mentor from industry, which represents the third component of the program. We have more than 80 mentors who meet with a student each month?usually at the mentor's office?to simulate a real-world reporting structure where the mentor guides the student through a complex project. For example, a new IT-governance model or new technology that can alter the competitive landscape of a business are discussed. The project is presented to an executive team for approval. The mentors' wisdom and experience are essential. In many ways, the instruction we offer is learning through apprenticeship?or, as I like to call it, critical love. Mentors come from such companies as AIG, Altria, Citigroup, Colgate-Palmolive, and Pfizer. They each select a student during a formal draft, after reviewing the pool of projects and enrollees. Having an external mentor is vital. It lets students validate what's being taught and alleviates concern about whether faculty really understand what it's like to be in their industry. When students get confirmation through an independent executive, it drives home the importance of what they need to do to be successful. Our mentors, who are also carefully selected, are stakeholders in the group. I give them two key responsibilities. First, they must determine a portion of their student's grade for the term, based on how well that individual performed under their direction. Second, they have the final word on the design of the presentation and proposal. I often ask myself and our mentors why they put so much time and effort into the program. I believe their commitment creates a unique contract between industry and education. Perhaps the most important component of the program is the oral defense. Along with faculty, mentors sit as judges while students defend each chapter. Our mentors and faculty are charged with critiquing the students' per- formance as if it's their responsibility to make the decision on the proposal. Students learn how to be clear and concise when presenting to executive audiences, which may include people who are unfamiliar with the technology. Most of all, the oral defenses challenge students to be better strategic business partners?a role many CIOs have trouble learning. In May, the inaugural group of students took part in commencement exercises. Among the well-wishers were many of the mentors, who took pride in knowing that they had helped to nurture these technology executives of the future. Arthur Langer helps run the Programs in Technology at Columbia University's School of Continuing Education. Tell us how your organization cultivates CIO leadership skills, or comment on this topic in our blog. See Related Articles: CIO 2.0: The Next Dimension, June 2006 Mastering Major-League Change, April 2004 Launching Cycles Of Leadership, August 2002

Why would a 33-year-old IT manager in the financial-services industry go back to term papers and late-night reading assignments?not to mention pay $40,000 in tuition over two years? For the chance to become a CIO. At least that's the reason Robert Quigley gives for signing on to Columbia's master's degree program in 2004. "It was a wake-up call," he says. "I wanted to focus on the technology/business relationship," he says. "In the business world, you see all the time that technology is driving the business. This was the most relevant degree I could get." Quigley was among the 25 students graduating from the program in May. He's worked at Standard & Poor's in New York for the past three and a half years, first in IT, then in the classifications business unit. While the company offers opportunities for promotions, Quigley, like others in the program, felt he needed more formal training than most businesses can offer. After exploring graduate programs, including MBAs, Quigley saw the Columbia course as "more specific to what I was doing," he says. Besides the location, which was convenient for attending classes after work, the professional mentors were a definite attraction. His mentor was the managing director at the securities broker ICAP. "You and your mentor move through [the program] together," and you also learn from classmates and the other professionals, Quigley says. "They challenge you. This isn't something you just show up for." Quigley says that while the program was demanding at first, he adapted and thinks it was a great boost to him personally and for his career. In the short term, Quigley will remain at S&P and spend some time with the new baby due at his home this summer. Longer term, he has set his sights on becoming a VP or CIO. "The degree will lead me to good places with a high level of responsibility and leadership," he says. But since flexibility was also a key tenet of the program, he notes that while he's on a financial-services track now, "who knows where I can end up?" ? Paula Klein

Jim Noble, VP and CIO at Altria Group Inc., is an advocate for IT executives and for developing future leaders. Currently president of the New York chapter of the Society for Information Managers (SIM), he'll soon take the reins as international president of the association. Noble spoke with Optimize executive editor Paula Klein about being a mentor for the Columbia program. Q: What has changed in the qualifications required of CIOs, and how can this program help? A: Over the past decade, CIOs have experienced a shift from operations to innovation; this manifests itself as moving from efficiency to effectiveness, from bottom-line to top-line contributions, and hopefully, from perspiration to inspiration. CIOs have to be hybrids. Besides the traditional technology, business-knowledge, project-management, and change-management skills, they're measured on effectiveness, personality, wisdom, and corporate influence. Aspiring CIOs get very little help with this group of soft skills. That's where the Columbia program comes in. Q: Does the program address finding and retaining IT leaders? A: The people going through this program are at a crucial point in their careers. They start with technology backgrounds and find that there's a glass ceiling holding them back. Their technology career track isn't well-aligned with becoming a CIO. I don't think there's anything wrong with some turnover among CIOs; they're hybrids. In some businesses, like banks, CIOs can become COOs because they have to immerse themselves in the business. There's also nothing wrong with moving around from company to company or sector to sector. It gives you a way to understand different processes, and new thinking can be a plus. You learn other ways to do things and bring new perspectives to old problems. Q: Given your many commitments, why are you devoting time and effort to this program? A: We have an obligation to help groom the next generation of IT leadership. SIM coordinates a lot of professional leadership and development training to fill the "supply chain" of IT leaders. We advise many universities and colleges on their curriculum. In some cases, enrollment in IT-related classes at universities and colleges is down as much as 40% year over year. SIM's role is to promote IT as a great profession and tell people not to believe the propaganda that all jobs are going offshore to India and China. On the postgraduate level, we want to provide a practical slant for the students, and the Columbia approach?getting professionals to share their understanding of what it really takes to succeed?is unique and appealing. I'd love to see the model spread elsewhere. This is the second year I've been involved in this program. I volunteered to teach some classes, too, so the amount of time is a couple of hours a month [mentoring] a student, and a couple of more hours a month preparing and delivering lectures. It's not a big intrusion. Q: Describe the experience so far? A: It's wonderful. Classes are so open and interactive. Students don't hesitate to ask tough questions, and that keeps you on your toes. It's much harder than presenting to a board of directors. These students challenge you more! Q: What was the attraction of this program versus others? A: The Columbia course is a bridge between formal education and life experience.This is a pragmatic approach with an emphasis on communication skills, and as a result, students are high achievers in their careers. They come in knowing they need more coaching, and they get it. They've made a big sacrifice to learn something new. Q: Should this training be offered by businesses themselves? A: On-the-job training is generally underdeveloped. It's usually either formal course work in-house or external classes in a specific skill?usually technology-related. It's hard to find the right [mentors], and within the confines of a company, it's also hard to have to ask your own colleagues to play this role. At Altria, we have an ongoing performance-management program, with milestones for staff development. Where there's a need, we might point them to a course like the Columbia model.


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