How Techie are CIOs?

After attending the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, I left wondering how techie the CIOs attending really are. I have no doubt that they’re extraordinarily competent when it comes to interacting with boards, understanding budgets, and negotiation large IT contracts, but what about this: One panel of four was asked if they had Skype accounts. Only one of four did.

Now, I can certainly understand that an CIO shouldn’t be devoting time to giving a personal test-drive to every new start-up mentioned on TechCrunch, but Skype isn’t just any start-up. The company has been around since 2003 and was acquired by Ebay in 2005. At any time, millions of people are using the product around the world to chat, talk, or video chat with people all over the world.

What was most shocking was that the non-Skype using CIOs didn’t seem to even understand Skype’s business model and implying that Skype is an ad-supported application rather than it’s actual freemium model.

There is a serious break-down here. After 5 years, CIOs should universally understand at least how Skype works so they can make a rational decision about whether it may be an appropriate product to add to their communications mix.

Robert Cringely has a column out this week looking at the same issue at the CEO level. His perspectives on the technical skills at that roll sound similar:

IT Wars

Whether IT managers are promoted from within or brought from outside it is clear that they usually aren’t hired for their technical prowess, but rather for their ability to get along with THEIR bosses, who are almost inevitably not technical. For every John Reed, who rose from IT to run CitiCorp (and ultimately failed), there are a thousand CEOs who want nothing to do with computers.

In today’s technical landscape, corporations would be well served to look beyond the solutions presented to them from high priced sales teams with large expense budgets. They may be surprised at what they find.

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