Friday, June 03, 2005

Becoming a CIO

I'm at a conference now where there are many CIOs in waiting or aspirants to the title and there is a curiosity among them about career trajectory and what does it take to become one.

For my own part, I'm an Assistant CIO for Educational Technologies, and still a faculty member with tenure rights in the Economics department. My faculty colleagues on the Ed Tech Board want my position to be a held by a faculty member. I've no doubt about that. But where I have doubt, lot's of it, is why another faculty member would do this job. So much of it is about the business of supporting learning technology and any faculty member I know will mostly want to be involved in the good use of learning technology. Promoting use is there, to be sure, but it is only overtly there occasionally. The business part of the job is omnipresent.

One other aspect of my job is on the issue of where learning technology should be discussed and whether I should be the initiator of such conversations or if I should let those conversations happen on their own. There are many foci on campus that have an emphasis on promoting good instruction. These include our center for teaching excellence and our Teaching Academies. I've learned over time that it is key to have a good working relationship with the leaders in these areas. Sometimes that is hard to accomplish but persistence and familiarity seem to be the main ingredients. Then constructive approaches can be negotiated and staff can connect and refine the approach and make for their own.

I believe the situation is somewhat similar for the CIO but with this caveat. The CIO is involved in more conversations with senior administrators at or above that stature in the University hierarchy. And those conversations are regular, at scheduled meeting times. So it may be harder for a CIO, particularly at a big place like Illinois, to have conversations with senior academic people (Deans and important faculty). Yet these people will at least initially want their direct line to the CIO.

There is an article in the current version of the University Business about what CIOs do and how the nature of their work has changed from five years ago. It is an interesting question whether search committees for CIOs will recognize this change or want a more idealistic version, one who believes in the transformative power of information technology on the culture and fabric of the university. We have an opening in the CIO position at the University level, which controls administrative computing for all campuses of the system. It will be an education to see how that position gets filled.

I've not witnessed somebody internally from lower ranks in the organization being promoted to CIO or even to my level. (There is a parallel position to mine, with more of a span of authority, covering the information technology units that don't directly support instruction.) I have witnessed some modest amount of promotion up to the next rung below mine. The risers have been managers who showed technical competence and are straight shooters and level headed on business practice. They are good and talented people but by the nature of their career trajectory, they tend to be inward looking and not so big picture in their worldview. This means they must get out of their current circumstance to climb to the next rung. That is extremely difficult to do in their current jobs.

My own conclusion is that those who want to be CIOs must be willing to move. Mobility may be the key factor.

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