CXO

Should your tech chief be a jack-of-all-trades?

CIO Jury: Industry knowledge is not essential

Industry experience is considered low down on the list for CIOs and other heads of IT.

According to the latest CIO Jury, having a wealth of experience in the industry they currently work in is not essential.

The poll was in response to a recent silicon.com Naked CIO column about the transferability of IT chiefs' skills.

CIO50 2008: Top 10

The UK's leading CIOs revealed…

1.Robin Dargue Royal Mail

2.David Lister Royal Bank of Scotland

3.Neil Cameron Unilever

4.Catherine Doran Network Rail

5.John Suffolk UK government

6.Gordon Lovell-Read Siemens UK

7.Paul Coby British Airways

8.Tania Howarth Birds Eye Iglo Group

9.Simon Post Carphone Warehouse

10.Ben Wishart Whitbread

The jury voted eight to four in favour of a no vote although many respondents accepted there is a need as a CIO to have an understanding of the industry they are in to be able to support its business needs.

Most viewed their jobs, on the whole, as transferable; with key skills based around management and process as much more important.

Rob Neil, IT director, Ashford Borough Council said: "I've moved from financial IT to engineering organisations, academia, product ordering and fulfilment then to the public sector. I've never stayed in the same sector when moving jobs and it has never been an issue."

Some heads of IT count it as an advantage that they have moved around, because it gives them a fresh view of the situation that a professional who spent their career in one sector would not be able to achieve.

Paul Haley, director of IT, University of Aberdeen said: "It can be a positive advantage to enter into an environment with a completely fresh pair of eyes without preconceptions. All too frequently an acceptance of the status quo pervades an industry sector and can militate against innovation."

While agreeing a firm grounding in an industry was not essential to run a particular organisation's IT, Ian Cohen, CIO, Associated News pointed out that a good IT head needs to be able to apply the experience they have to the needs of that business.

He said: "Of course, you need to demonstrate great process and management skills but it has to be a particular focus on stakeholder and customer management."

Graham Benson, IT director, M and M Direct had a similar sentiment, pointing out that an awareness of the business needs of a particular business often meant the difference between being just an operational head and a strategic business leader.

He said: "If the CIO/director role is to be seen as part of the business leadership team rather than purely a functional leadership role, industry knowledge is necessary to build empathy/understanding with colleagues from around the business."

However, some IT heads did feel that prior industry knowledge does give a significant advantage when going in to head up an IT team and will play an important role in encouraging it to work alongside other divisions in the business.

David Supple, head of IT, Ecotec Research & Consulting said: "Whilst it is true that IT development needs to rise and transcend the structure of the organisation to take it forward - doing so with the respect and understanding of your colleagues can only help your cause - industry experience can certainly be a catalyst for this, when you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the pains and successes of the industry."

Today's CIO Jury was:

  • Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
  • Graham Benson, IT director, M and M Direct
  • Andrew Clarke, Group IT Director, Arcadia Group
  • Ian Cohen, CIO, Associated Newspapers
  • Harry Gardner, head of IT and group services, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Paul Haley, director of IT, University of Aberdeen
  • John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis
  • Rob Neil, head of ICT services, Ashford Borough Council
  • Jacques René, CIO, Ascend
  • Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
  • Richard Storey, head of IT, Guys & St Thomas' Hospital
  • David Supple, head of IT, Ecotec Research & Consulting

Want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT departments? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and you want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com

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