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Technology leaders of the future embedded in a business near you

Christina Torode

It's become customary to say that the role of the CIO and the IT department is constantly shifting. There are tangible signs, however, that the next generation of IT leaders indeed will be a different breed. A shift to embedding IT leaders within business functions

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is well under way, and is showing up in the curriculum being taught to future technology leaders.

More of the people entering our Regional Leadership Forum aren't coming from IT but from the legal, logistics and operational units of a company. That wasn't the case five years ago.

"More of the people entering our Regional Leadership Forum [RLF] aren't coming from IT but from the legal, logistics and operational units of a company. That wasn't the case five years ago," said Bob Rouse, director of the RLF program at the Society for Information Management (SIM) and professor of computer science at Washington University in St. Louis. Participants in the 10-month leadership program are selected by a CFO or CIO, attend seminars led by experienced leaders, and take part in peer discussions about real-world business scenarios and challenges.

At the same time, more technology leaders are taking on business functions, said George Westerman, a research scientist at the Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT Center for Digital Business, which was created by the MIT Sloan School of Management. "I've seen a CIO take over the HR function and the cafeteria functions," he said.

"What we are seeing is that more people who have successfully run a business unit are being put in charge of the IT function as well," said Westerman, faculty chair for MIT Sloan's executive course on transforming business through IT, and author of The Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value. "They already speak the business language and have proven that they can be trusted to successfully run an organization," he said.

Industry training for technology leaders

The need to make data meaningful and useful to customers and employees also plays a large role in this technology leadership shift, SIM's Rouse said. IT is in the plum position of acting as both data steward and data activist. The goal of an IT organization that functions as a data activist is to use data effectively across the organization. "This is not a discussion about database systems or more reliable networks, it is about what we can do with technology to cement us to our internal and external customers," he said. The shift goes beyond proving the value of IT systems to seeing IT as the driver of business value and competitive advantage. "It's about how we use data and technology in a way that makes it pay off for the business."

One way of making technology pay off is to focus a curriculum on industry-specific training, as is the case at the Global Institute for IT Management, a New York-based startup focused on "creating IT thought leaders" through 25 IT management certificate programs. "What we are offering are courses like IT for pharmaceuticals, for financial services, for manufacturing and HR," said Jerry Luftman, founder of the Global Institute of IT Management and former director of the information systems program at the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

Data mining is "the hottest" technology skill set in demand, as it has been for the last 10 years, Luftman said. Nevertheless, all the newer technology trends -- like cloud computing, social networking and "bring your own device" -- present an opportunity for technology leaders to use them uniquely and often for their business, he said. "Just understanding technology is never enough. We need to really understand how technology is leveraged within a given business industry."

Many of the participants in the institute's courses are up-and-coming leaders who report directly to CIOs, Others are new CIOs, and still others are business people trying to learn how to better use IT resources. The latter group's interest is wide-ranging. "The business people want to learn how to effectively work with IT, how to run an IT initiative, what the best outsourcing strategies are for their industry, about governance processes and gaining strategic and tactical operational experience," Luftman said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.