November 30, 2000, 3:13 PM — THE COURSE LEADING to the desk of the chief information officer is not an easy
path to chart. Rapid changes in technology often mean diverse and shifting job
responsibilities for the CIO. But technology's move to the forefront of business -- in
particular, the struggle to reshape business models around the Internet -- has also
created abundant opportunities for the CIO.
The executive charged with heading up a company's IT systems and departments,
for obvious reasons, needs a solid grounding in technology. But as technology and
business strategy become more intertwined, business skills -- particularly a business-
minded vision of technology -- are indispensable. The image of a technology leader as
an isolated scientist enjoying the solitary immersion in technology has been thrown out
in favor of a suit with technology smarts.
This demand for CIOs with a strong business background is a growing trend,
according to recruiters who place high-level technology executives.
"They wouldn't get a CIO job without some business skills," says Stephen
Markman, vice president at Pencom Systems, a senior-level IT recruiter, in New
York. "[CIOs] have to have business acumen and know how businesses are put together.
Great communication and business skills are always key as you move up the ladder."
Aside from shifting business models, another incentive for business savvy is
that in addition to overseeing the company's technology systems, the CIO must also be a
contributing member of the executive team.
"The last CIO I placed, the company asked specifically for a business person who
moved into technology," says Beverly Lieberman, vice president of Halbrecht Lieberman
Associates, a Stamford, Conn.-based executive search company that places CIOs and chief
technology officers. "If they come from business, it is an insurance policy that the
CIO speaks their language. It is important in the leadership team that the CEO and CIO
share language and ideology."
"They want their CIO to be a strategic partner, [to] be able to sit at the
executive table, be comfortable and communicative -- not talking technobabble, but
speaking in crisp business terms," Lieberman adds.
According to Peter Solvik, senior vice president and CIO of Cisco Systems, in
San Jose, Calif., a CIO needs to be a visionary who understands how technology can
support business transformation.
"The unique skill that CIOs need and that businesses really long for [is] being
able to creatively and strategically see how technology can impact the business and be
[able] to communicate that vision," Solvik says. "[A CIO] must communicate effectively
and build partnerships effectively at the executive level to create, implement, and
carry those visions forward."