Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What do C level officers do? 3: the Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 22, 2014

This is my third posting to a series on what C level officers of a business or organization do, that specifically emerge as job requirements for the senior leadership of an organization (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I offered a general introduction to this area of discussion in Part 1 and then focused in on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in Part 2. My point of focus there was on how a good CFO:

• Works both within their own department in managing its overall internal operations and strategy,
• And with the business as a whole in helping to meet its overall needs.
• And I focused there on issues of monetary resource flow and availability and on how a CFO has to be able to understand and acknowledge differences in perceived need and priority that call for liquid asset expenditure – readily available cash spending. And they need to know how to help to resolve these differences in ways that everyone involved can work with. That, I add, often means working with stakeholders who specialize in areas in which they have no hands-on experience themselves.

My goal for this installment as noted in both Parts 1 and 2, and in the title to this posting is to similarly focus in on the positions of Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). And my basic line of argument here is going to closely parallel what I had to say when addressing conflicts of perception, goal and priority from a CFO perspective. And I begin that by highlighting an issue that I did not delve into as explicitly in Part 2 but that applies in both that and this context.

A C level officer, for most functional specialization departments or services, is someone who has risen through the ranks in their one area of specialization. They might become more of a generalist within their larger specialty field as they advance through the ranks. A CIO might for example have started working hands-on in network technology and have much of their hands-on experience working with and maintaining local and wide area networks, and server farms and related network node technology. Or they might have significantly developed and managed help desk and support systems with a technology consumer support specialization. The range of possibilities here is as wide as the range of specialization areas within Information Technology that it is possible to work in. And it is not unusual for a business to hire or advance an IT manager into a CIO position at least in part because of their particular areas of specialty expertise, and particularly when a strategically significant gap or disconnect has been found in that area of the business and its IT operations.

So a new and certainly a first time new CIO tends to arrive at this new type of job with a very IT-oriented mindset and if they are to succeed they have to step out of that for a good, solid half of their thinking and planning. They have to maintain their internal to their department focus but they have to match it with a wider angle understanding of context and need too. And this is where the issues of potential conflict of understanding enter in, along with a host of other factors and considerations that go with being a C level officer of whatever type. To jump ahead here, I have seen the learning curve challenges of developing this type of dual vision in new Chief Executive Officers too, and particularly when working with startups and new business leaders who have not had the opportunity to go through anything like this type of learning curve in a more established business organization framework and from mentoring that can be available from that.

And what are some of the core friction points that can land on a CIO’s desk in this context? I have focused up to here on the Chief Information Officer, but everything I have been writing up to here applies to officers with Technology in their job title too, and so does this question.

• Generically, what is the single commonest point of potential contention when balancing departmental leadership, with working with and across the business as a whole?
• If I were to try to summarize an answer to that in two words I would suggest “managing expectations” and the need to do so.

That last pair of bullet points raises a whole complex of issues, and I will at least begin to unravel some of them in a next series installment. I will focus by way of example on some specific issues that I have had to deal with myself when working as a CIO. My thought there, is that if I focus on examples that I have had to work through in all of their sometimes frustrating detail, and if I outline them in terms of transferable lessons learned rather than focusing on their more incidental details, that might offer more value to others. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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