A CIOs Guide to Life

Opinion: A new book reaffirms the worth of technology and professional goals.

The last time i played golf with Gregory Smith, vice president and CIO of the World Wildlife Fund, in Washington, he was playing his typical game and I mine.

At the SAS Pro-Am Golf Tournament in 2004, his drives would rocket straight down the fairway. My drives had that great randomness that makes for great game theory and terrible golf. During the game, he told me he intended to write a book that would provide a road map for an IT professional aspiring to become a CIO.

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Smiths book, "Straight to the Top: Becoming a World-Class CIO," which will be released in April, provides that road map and more. In an era of academic books thick in theory and with Nicholas Carrs "Does IT Matter?" thesis still reverberating, Smith reaffirms why companies invest in technology and why aspiring to become a CIO is a worthy professional goal.

"If you are really serious about managing technology in your company, you need somebody with technology and business savvy to do it. Sorry, but a CFO is not going to cut it managing an IT shop," Smith told me during a telephone interview.

What does cut it, according to Smith, is a combination of process; knowledge of technology; and ability to connect to vendors, peers and influencers on more than a strictly corporate level.

Thats where golf comes in. Straight shooting in IT, rather than randomness, requires the skill of an expert. In an era when vendors that sell productivity tools are unable to finish their big projects on time (such as Microsoft) and when laptops full of customer information are getting lost (such as Fidelitys loss of a laptop containing Hewlett-Packard data), CIOs and prospective CIOs could use such a guide.

"Tomorrows successful technology professionals and leaders will be power users of technology, have a strong grasp of technology topics, and will integrate and work closely with other business executives and staff," Smith wrote in the preface to his book. As a matter of full disclosure, Smith was a member of eWEEKs Corporate Partners advisory board.

He has been in the technology industry for more than 20 years in positions that have included the past five years in his current role at the World Wildlife Fund, a principal consultant in a consulting firm, an IT director at a Fortune 200 financial services firm and an adjunct professor teaching about the use of technology in business. He made it to the top as a CIO when he was 37 years old.

When I asked Smith how he answers the "Does IT Matter?" question, he said, "My direct response is to have someone pull the plug on the data center and ask that question when everything comes crashing down."

The starting point for aspiring CIOs takes place before they begin their interviews or contact recruiters. A firm knowledge of technology, business and the process of corporate governance (the rules and processes by which a company operates) should be well in hand before seeking that CIO job. Smith said good project management skills are one of the key skills a CIO needs to master.

Those skills extend beyond the charts and timelines inherent in project management. They also include managing the new executive who comes in with a different idea of the role of IT and the CIO.

"The challenge in the technology framework is often the turnover in the business unit itself when, for example, a new chief marketing officer or new vice president of product development comes to the company," said Smith. You can read more about Smiths book at Amazon.com.

At eWeek, we started a Road Map series of detailed case studies for companies looking to develop new technology capabilities to give them an edge over their competitors.

Smith has done something similar by providing aspiring CIOs with a road map and a reason to build their careers as technology leaders in their companies.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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