Training Your Way to the Top

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-07-29

Training Your Way to the Top

Upper-level IT managers are more used to giving lessons than getting them, but if theyre like Bill Chestnutt, thats about to change. In August, Chestnutt, director of information management at Good Samaritan Society, a nonprofit, continuing health care organization in Edmonton, Alberta, will return to school as part of his quest to earn a CIO certification. Hell take a week away from his job to sit in a classroom, hear lectures on better ways to align IT with business goals, swap war stories with other high-level tech managers and pick the brains of renowned researchers in the field. His goal: to come away with a set of best practices that will help him meet the biggest challenges of his career.

Certifications such as the MCSE, or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, have become highly popular among technical professionals seeking to boost their knowledge and careers. But will the idea benefit management types, specifically CIOs and wannabe CIOs? While its too early to know for sure, experts say training and certification may not pay off for CIOs the way they do for other IT professionals.

"By the time an IT manager is in the running for the top job, what matters most is how theyve made a difference to an organization—their on-the-job successes—more than any line item under education," said Judy Homer, president of JBHomer Associates Inc., an IT executive recruitment agency based in New York. Added Mark Polansky, managing director of the IT practice at recruiter Korn/Ferry International, based in New York, "A certification implies competency in a technology. Theres no certification for any other C-level executive. The best tool for a CIO is still an MBA."

Chestnutt, however, said he believes in CIO certification. He has signed up for the second level of a four-part CIO certification course offered by Pink Elephant Inc., an IT training organization based in Toronto that launched the series in 2000. The certification course, titled "IT Executive Management Certification," is based on an IT best-practices model created by the United Kingdom Office of Government Commerce. The model is outlined in a series of books called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library. The series is divided into seven core topics, ranging from "Planning to Implement Service Management" to "Application Management" to "The Business Perspective." (The books sell for $100 each. More information is available at

According to Pink Elephant CEO Fatima Cabral, more than 100 managers from North America have gone through the companys first level of CIO certification, a two-day session focusing on the essentials of IT executive management.

This fall marks the launch of the Level II course, which will be offered in a number of U.S. and Canadian cities. Levels III and IV, which Cabral expects to launch next year, will be independent study, rather than classroom-based courses.

In the end, graduates of the series will walk away with lessons learned through case studies, lectures from such industry luminaries as Howard Rohm (founder of the U.S. Foundation for Performance Measurement) and networking with other upper-level IT managers in diverse industries, Cabral said.

Prices have not been set for Levels III and IV, but the two-day Level I course costs $2,695, and the seven-day Level II course costs $5,830.

Some experts think this kind of training and certification, although expensive, will prove important to current and prospective CIOs, particularly given the dramatic changes in technology management in the past 20 years.

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"More than ever, new CIOs are being promoted into the top jobs from regional positions or lower divisions, and they need to come up to speed quickly on the technical and business issues theyll be facing," said Ellen Kitzis, vice president of executive programs at Gartner Inc. in Framingham, Mass. "Were also seeing a tremendous number of CIOs who are coming in from the business side of the organization—about one-third of all new CIOs—and they have a steep learning curve as well." Gartner will be piloting its own CIO training course in September. Kitzis described the CIO Leadership Camp as a sort of intensive boot camp. No price has been set for the course as yet; more information can be found at

The CIO training programs now appearing can have personal and professional benefits and appeal to upper-level IT managers aspiring to the top job, as well as to those already in the hot seat. An executive course such as Pink Elephants or Gartners has several advantages over a full-fledged or executive MBA degree, even one with an IT focus: It takes less time away from the job, costs less and focuses more on practical problem solving than on theory.

Still, there are many fast-track IT managers who think success as a CIO will never be tied to earning another piece of paper.

"The most successful IT managers I know arent necessarily the ones with higher degrees," said Gerard Begley, strategic planning manager in the IT division of Tellabs Inc., in Shannon, Ireland. "What they all do have is good personal attributes, like a high energy level. Theyre good with people, they listen well, see the big picture and arent afraid to make decisions. IQ and EQ [emotional intelligence] will always mean more."

Stephanie Wilkinson, a free-lance writer, can be reached at

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