What It Takes to Be CIO

People skills, tech savvy and business acumen needed.

"It is a great time to be a technologist." Say what? Amid the talk of outsourcing, offshoring and consolidation everywhere you turn, is it really a great time to be the technologist in your company? Yes, says David Barnes, and he should know.

I spoke with Barnes shortly after he was named CIO of UPS early this month. Barnes, 48, is a veteran UPS executive, having spent 27 years with the company, most recently as the vice president of customer and operations application portfolios in UPS information services department. I told him I was more curious about what makes a good CIO in the current technology environment than about the particulars of UPS technology investments this year. Are business skills the most important? How about the need to understand technology? What advice did he have for the recent technology-oriented graduate? And with all the talk about burst bubbles and vendor consolidation, is it the best or the worst of times to be a technologist? The quote that starts this column was his answer to the last question.

A broad view of the company along with good management and people skills are essential for technologists—and not just at the upper-executive levels, according to Barnes. Especially in a company with as broad a global reach as UPS, the days when a technologist could retreat into a narrow niche without taking the broader view are gone. "Team building and developing trust-based relationships" are essential skills today, he said.

But that does not mean that those skills can replace technical understanding. "There is no substitute for technical understanding," Barnes told me. Technologists need to be intellectually curious about the many new developments in the works and be able to translate that understanding into projects that accomplish their companies business missions. That understanding—business acumen—is the third of three requirements that make up a good tech exec, with people skills and technology understanding rounding out the other two.

When all those pieces are working together, you have technology professionals who are bringing new projects and systems to senior management rather than passively waiting for decisions to be handed down to their departments.

Without too much paraphrasing of Barnes: If you want to be a vibrant part of an exciting company, then bring exciting ideas and projects to the table. Colleges and universities are getting better at developing students with those well-rounded skills, but students must realize they need an understanding of the businesses they are entering and be able to focus on those businesses from a customer- oriented perspective.

After hearing way too many tech executives talk about why they are thinking of bailing out of the technology segment, it was tremendously refreshing to talk with Barnes. Here is someone who has slogged through technology projects from the small to the grand. And, after all that, now that he has moved up to the highest technology ranks at one of the biggest companies around, he is bringing that enthusiasm along with him. When Barnes said that at UPS "technology is embedded in every core process," I realized that his statement applied equally to nearly every midsize or large company doing business in todays economy.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read the latest IT executive news, research and analysis from CIO Insight.

Those embedded technologies tend to be distinct and separate in many companies. The push is now to integrate those processes, secure them and figure out what new capabilities are possible once the integration is complete.

The number of technology projects with which the business world and the world at large are confronted is staggering. Whether they are new ways to track and deliver packages or a new warning system for tidal waves, the technologies to develop those systems are more robust, more available and more global in their reach than ever before. What is needed is the enthusiasm to take on the projects. Barnes has that enthusiasm for his company; could you say the same for the way you feel about your company?

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at [email protected].