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CIOs struggle with the great talent hunt

Stephanie Overby | May 2, 2013
Finding IT pros with business skills has always been a bear. So award-winning CIOs are taking radical steps to train, recruit or grow the hybrid staff they covet.

According to a CIO Executive Council survey of 200 IT leaders this year, IT organizations are least proficient in the "ability to develop, market and present compelling visions of IT-enabled business opportunities" followed by the "ability to appreciate and incorporate external customer needs and experience." If corporate IT were composed of employees with equal parts business and technology knowledge, those might be dominant skills. So why don't CIOs just hire more well-rounded workers? Because they don't tend to exist in the wild.

"Business savvy comes from years of experience working on the business side, generally at a level high enough to have a broad cross-functional perspective," says Dave Smoley, a 2013 CIO Hall of Fame inductee. "Because technical competence comes from years of experience working and training in math, science and technology, it is rare to find both in one individual." Smoley, until recently the CIO of Flextronics International, joined pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca as CIO on April 15.

Bringing business professionals into IT can work, but their technology knowledge can be shallow. Imbuing techies with a business point of view is difficult.

"It's hard for tech people--even middle managers on up to senior managers--to think the way that the business thinks," says Teri Takai, CIO for the Department of Defense and a 2013 CIO Hall of Fame inductee. "They tend to explain things from their own perspective."

Raja Musunuru, CIO at The Steritech Group and a 2013 Ones to Watch honoree, was once a case in point. "I am an engineer by study, and to me, everything seemed to be a problem that needed to be solved--and solved in a particular way," Musunuru says. "While that works well in certain scenarios, it's not a foolproof recipe for value contribution to the business."

When Weeks arrived at SquareTwo Financial, only a couple of people at the very top of the IT organization worked with the business at all. "The rest were spoon-fed what to do. It was a huge bottleneck that stifled creativity and collaboration," says Weeks. "It was crazy."

Rebuilding--and Re-branding--IT

Sometimes the best thing you can do is blow up the IT department up and start over.

Weeks explained his expectations to the technology team: "We're moving to this more collaborative and engaged environment. You're going to have to understand what our business needs to be successful. You may not want to do that, and I don't want any hostages."

Some people got it, particularly the company's underused business analysts. Others fled, like many on the development team. It wasn't just the business focus that drove them out, it was the added accountability. "There were people that had been hiding under a rock," Weeks says.


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