Should CIOs be techies?

I am going to throw a grenade into the mix and see what happens. This isn’t a tactic of being challenging for the sake of stirring things up but an attempt to get people to step outside conventional thought patterns and look at things from a different perspective.

I don’t see this as mindmapping, brainstorming or whatever the latest trend is; maybe it’s just me being devil’s advocate or just sheer bloody minded (where’s that smiley emoticon when you need it?)

Here it comes … Does a CIO have to be a “techie?” Did you duck?

Wood for the trees syndrome

Surely the role of a CIO is to ensure the smooth running of the IT functions with an organisation and so an overview of the processes is more important than a nuts and bolts understanding of every aspect of IT. After all, isn’t that what the rest of the IT team is for?

I suggest there is a strong argument for a CIO not be a techie. I reckon most CIOs have a tech discipline bias as part of their career path so this could be a handicap? Do techie CIOs have a “can’t see the wood for the trees” blindness that stop them seeing the bigger picture, a sort of minutiae madness?

Techno babble

The flip side of the coin is that a outsider is capable of understanding what the organisation needs from its IT resources and is better placed to take advice from relevant and qualified managers and making a more balanced decision.

They don’t get tongue tied with techno-babble and in-team TLAs (three letter acronyms). Speaking plain English – choose a language of your choice – they can report upwards in easy to understand words that will enable the board to make better decisions.

If you argue that a CIO needs technical knowledge to best interpret the needs and processes of an IT department maybe that department has the wrong people at certain managerial levels.

I concur that the people at the pit face need in depth knowledge but as we look up the food chain surely we need individuals with more business oriented skills who can look at, evaluate and implement a new strategy based on a different point of view?

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.