The IT Education Conundrum


For a profession that talks a lot about "best practices," IT lacks a critical one: what's the most successful way to educate future CIOs?

Before searching for solutions, it's crucial to look at two major impediments. First, the role of the CIO is changing. Evolving may be a better word--either way, the transformation is happening more rapidly and extensively than anyone could foresee. That evolution makes it harder to formalize an educational or on-the-job training platform for future IT leaders.

That brings us to the second hurdle: regardless of the evolving job description, there isn't a clear "curriculum" for the wannabe CIO. Business schools tend to focus on more general-management tracks, and master's degree programs emphasize lower-level technical skills. Blending the two requires a lot of creativity--and lots of time at the registrar.

Tack on that there's really no such thing anymore as a defined career path for the aspiring CIO, and you have yourself a big problem.

Is there any wonder there's a shortage of qualified IT pros?

A few months ago, in an interview with CIO Insight, author and consultant Patrick Gray said, "If you took 100 Harvard and Wharton MBAs and asked them what they aspire to, I'd be shocked if you got more than two that said CIO. That's a reflection that IT has a black eye."

Sure, Harvard and Wharton students may have their eyes on bigger prizes than the CIO's perch, but the point remains.

Still, the problem rarely seems to creep into the larger discussion about IT leadership. In a recent survey of 1,400 CIOs, Robert Half Technology found that developing career tracks for IT workers was the fifth highest challenge cited. Not surprisingly, that fell behind the perennial challenges of finding, training and retaining talented workers. But surprisingly enough--given all the current problems with harvesting talent--only 10 percent of the CIOs interviewed cited forming career tracks as a top challenge.

So what's an aspiring CIO to do? And what can current CIOs to do nurture the next generation?

These articles and presentations are a good start:

The Looming CIO Shortage

Research: Role of the CIO

Why CIOs Struggle to Become More Strategic

Pitfalls with Solutions for Aspiring CIOs

We'll be looking into this issue thoroughly through the year. In the meantime, help us out: what's the best way to groom the next generation? What are the biggest obstacles, and how can they be overcome?


15 Comments for "The IT Education Conundrum"

  • Hyeri August 26, 2013 10:01 pm

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this to a colleague who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me dinner simply because I stumbled upon it for him lol. So let me reword this. Thanks for the meal!! But

  • Jon Unger March 28, 2008 8:21 pm

    The CIO has a difficult task. They must be able to understand their technical staff and explain the concepts to the business executives. Many CIOs start out in the computer science and computer information systems majors at universities only to find that the courses they took in college this year are already 3-5 years out of date in the real world. The key for aspiring CIOs is to gain the business knowledge and constantly read about the latest technologies that are available that can be used to help the business achieve their goals. Also, it is imperative that technology managers begin to understand how each department outside of their own functions and how all of the departments come together to build the company's complete infrastructure. So in short, should the business schools offer more education around technology? Yes, but students should focus more on the business skills that will allow them to interact with the non-IT folks as typically CIO's are brought up with the technology.

  • Pete DeLisi March 04, 2008 1:41 pm

    I agree with the comments of the author that educating future IT executives is a real challenge. Generic management development programs are not the answer. IT is new enough and different enough that you need a management development program in which IT professionals can attend together, learn from one another and offer support to one another. At Santa Clara University, we are now into our tenth year with the IT Leadership Program. It is a modest attempt to put together a short (three days) program on executive level skills for senior IT professionals. Our model works and has gotten praise from attendees and academics alike. What we need, however, is a much more extensive curriculum for future IT leaders. Pete DeLisi Academic Dean IT Leadership Program

  • b. breeland March 02, 2008 7:27 pm

    I do not believe there is a problem. We are simply trying to solve the wrong problem. There is no shortage of candidates eager to fill the CIO ranks. Unfortunately, we ask them to solve technical problems. It is not about the technology; it is about business. We have enough technology. We just have no idea how to apply it to solve business challenges. I do have one idea to help groom the next generation. The best way to groom the next generation is to start early. Corporations should identify talent early -- as early as 10 grade -- and teach problem-solving skills through competitions that solve real business problems with existing technology. The solutions that high school students provide to problems are limited to what they know and are often free from the prejudices developed later. From these individual and team competitions, corporations offer scholarships and internships that increase the student's awareness of business challenges and available technology. Encouraging the students to consider improvements and/or new technology is also part of the program. The goal is to create a team of problem solvers who understand that the challenge is a business problem and not a technology problem -- we have more than enough processing power to solve most business challenges, yet Intel continues to develop faster and more complex processors. Consider this: if your car does not start in the morning and you need to get to work by 10 a.m. for an important meeting; it is not a car problem but a transportation problem. One must decide based on money and time, the best transportation method to get to the office by 10am for the meeting. The same applies to business and technology -- it is a business problem, not a technology problem. The business (corporations) must take responsibility in developing business leaders who know how to understand and use technology. We must create leaders who understand when to open the hood and when to find transportation.

  • Luan February 28, 2008 4:30 pm

    To help narrow down the responsibility of a CIO, we have CEO (Execution), CFO (Finance), COO (Operations), CSO/CISO (Information/Security), CRO (Risk), CTO (Technology), CCO (Compliance, merged with CRO?), etc., and CIO (Information); so it has to do with protecting/guarding (security overlap?) and making use of information, an increasing corporate intangible asset, to provide - as close to real-time as possible - business intelligence (trends, competitors, customers, KPI's (Key Performance Indicators, KGI (Goal), KRI (Risk)) to the organization to help set business strategies, assist IT and business objective alignment to create risk-adjusted added value, and achieve sustainable business competiveness. The key roles of a CIO are: - Create Data/Information Governance (Define data governance structure (committee, roles/ responsibity), data security and privacy policy, compliance enforcement policy, standards / best practices, standard decision-making process, etc.) - Data Warehousing Management (DWM), Master Data Management (MDM), Data Integration Management (DIM for consistent, single view of data across the organization), and Data Quality Management (GIGO - Garbage In/Garbage Out) - Real-time (a key goal) Business Intelligence Analytics and Reporting, Business Activity Mornitoring (BAM), Business Performance Mornitoring (Dashboard, Balance Score Card) - Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Management

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