CIOs May Not Know How to Code, but Must Be Able to Communicate

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With all of the emphasis on IT's role in process improvement and other business initiatives, and the continuing focus on finding well-rounded CIOs with business as well as technical knowledge, just how important is a strong technology background? In some discussions, it's presented as a drawback.


So I suppose it's no surprise to see articles like one in CIO.com titled "Does a Tech Manager Need to Be Tech-Savvy?"


The consensus among the tech pros interviewed for the article: While tech managers should have enough tech knowledge to properly allocate resources and to come up with reality-based timetables for project completion, they don't necessarily need to be able to perform technical tasks themselves.


Several folks highlighted the need for tech managers to be able to effectively communicate the value of IT to other areas of the business, in language those areas can understand. Not coincidentally, that was a key quality of several CIOs recently profiled by strategy+business who successfullystraddle the divide between IT and the business.


A coworker of mine had a real problem with the term strategy+business used to describe those CIOs: "practical visionary. " "I just don't see what's visionary about sitting in on business-channel talks," he said.


It may not be visionary, but it is necessary, judging by the CIO.com article. Describing her experiences with managers who lacked a technical background, Donna MacLeod, a systems analyst at a medical diagnostic company, says:

... The lack of understanding for technical matters meant that a lot of projects which really, really needed funding never took off because there was no one both technical enough and business-savvy enough to sell it to the board. ...

Says Gary Brown, extreme programming coach for Carfax:

I depend on my manager to be politically savvy, to understand technical issues at the been-there-done-that level and to remove barriers to progress.

Those "barriers to progress" may come from business types who want everyday tech challenges to receive the same priority as more strategic initiatives or who otherwise make unrealistic demands of IT employees, based on other comments in the article.