Developing the CIO skill set

Mark McDonald of Gartner explains how the company helps CIOs develop the skill set for a changing role

Tags: Gartner CIO AcademyGartner IncorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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Developing the CIO skill set The Gartner CIO Academy aims to mix corporate IT and personal leadership skills, says McDonald.
By  Mark Sutton Published  September 24, 2009

With responsibility for Gartner's research agenda focused exclusively on CIOs and the business of information technology, Mark McDonald is one of the guiding forces of content and direction for the Gartner CIO Academy. A lead author of research in the areas of CIO credibility, the business use of advanced technologies, enterprise architecture and business process transformation, spoke to him about the plans for the event and Gartner's vision of CIO education.

Tell me more about your role?

I am group vice president in Gartner executive programs, and head of research for Gartner executive programs, so I have got three roles, I am one of the faculty of the CIO Academy, I am also one of the contributors of content to CIO academy, and part of the responsibility for the future of CIO Academy, how it meets the needs of CIOs, sits on my plate as well.

Why did Gartner set up the CIO Academy?

One of the things we noticed was that IT, or CIOs, were increasingly having to address a set of blended issues that kind of crossed boundaries between pure technology issues, and business impact and business strategy issues. So in an environment where these decisions increasingly become more about addressing a combination of constraints, and a combination of goals, we found that there was a skill set that CIOs needed to be successful.

And the CIO Academy aims to provide them with that skills set?

It is really to give them a safe environment, to explore these issues, figure out how they apply to them, and then take the appropriate tools and insights back to the execution of their job.

Which particular issues will you be focusing on this time?

There will be a focus on things like IT governance, how the CIO can lead in terms of the enterprise's use of information, as information continues to replace or provide an increasingly more powerful substitute for capital and operations. There will be a concentration on how to structure the IT organization, how do they themselves continue to build their leadership skills and capabilities, because the days of issues that were wholly technical, and issues that were completely business, and could be decided independently, have kind of passed.

How that relates specifically to the Middle East is the number of companies and the number of regions that are making the transition from resource based economy to other forms of economic behaviour, requires setting up and dealing with these issues in rapid succession, and we think that CIO Academy will offer IT leaders in the Middle East an opportunity to jump the curve if you will, and continue to deliver effective information and technology to meet the needs of company formation, operational success etc

Is it wise for companies in the Middle East to leap-frog technology generations, and is it something they tell you they are keen on?

There are a couple of things, one is what we see, in my experience in working with countries in the region is that they recognize that neither do they want to be, nor do they need to be, having a ‘growing up' lifecycle. Meaning that they start as a young company, that doesn't know much, and that has to experience a lot before it gets things right.

The opportunity to get things right for the regional market, exists in a much shorter learning curve period of time. So why wouldn't they take advantage of that? Not only does it take time to go through a learning curve, but it is expensive and it is increasingly unnecessary.

That doesn't just mean taking western management techniques and adopting them wholesale, but it does mean that there are some lessons to be learned from there, and apply those lessons in their local context.

Are there specific lessons or issues for CIOs that you will focus on?

One of the things I think is encouraging us in delivering this is that many of the management practices, and many of the tools that are used in the management practices, and we found this in other regions as well, is that they really do transcend culture. The point is that the context in which those tools are executed against is different, so part of bringing the Academy to the local region, and delivering it in a way that is more dialogue-based, and engaging CIOs in executive education style discussions is a very effective way of building those skills.

How much balance in the sessions will there be between individual development and organizational development?

In just about every organization, there are issues about how you make decisions, how you organize yourself, how do you measure success, what is my personal contribution to my company's success and what is my group's contribution to my company's success, so the issues are somewhat universal. The specific actions relative to me and my company come out through that dialogue and through the exploration of that space, and that is a big difference in executive education for people like CIOs, versus classroom education where you are kind of given a rule book. At the Academy there will be a unique opportunity to put issues on the table, whether in group sessions, or in sessions afterwards, to really understand and explore and begin to tailor answers from these proven practices and tools, to individual situations, and that is a pretty powerful opportunity.

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