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Shaping the new CIO role with a tough new curriculum

Christina Torode

In 2003, Dean Lane sat with a networking group of 16 fellow CIOs throwing out ideas about how they would spend their royalties from the book they were going to write on the wisdom they'd gained in the CIO role. "I'd buy a boat," one said. "No, a plane," another quipped. But when all the joking was done, the group (which called itself The Office of the CIO) decided it would transform the

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CIO role by starting a scholarship fund for next-generation IT strategists. Then Lane took the lead in "getting his CIO buddies" together to actually write the book.

Dean Lane,
CIO, Henley-Putnam University

Since CIO Wisdom in 2003, the group, which meets monthly, has written two more books: CIO Perspectives and The Chief Information Officer's Body of Knowledge. The royalties from the books -- totaling $350,000 -- support programs in California-area educational institutions and provide scholarships through The CIO Scholarship Fund for students pursuing a course of study in technology. To date, another $100,000 has been raised by IT professionals (60 at last count) participating in a golf outing held annually in Northern California -- the third annual CIO Scholarship Golf Tournament will be held later this month.

Lane, CIO at Henley-Putnam University in San Jose, Calif., masterminded The Office of the CIO, which hosts the scholarship fund. His buddies included CIO Judy Armstrong of Benchmark Capital, and former eBay COO Maynard Webb. The group's books cover topics from IT budgeting and practical advice on governance to discussions on what the CIO role is and where it fits in the enterprise. They also contain chapters on women in IT and what CIOs can expect in the first 90 days on the job.

You are not going hear about RFID or flash drives in our meetings.

Dean Lane,
founder of The Office of the CIO

With its CIO scholarships going to technology students, does that mean that the group feels the next generation's CIO role will focus mainly on IT? Not at all. If anything, Lane and his peers want every up-and-coming CIO to function as the CEO of the IT department. This mentality is reflected in the meetings of The Office of the CIO.

"Only two of our meetings have ever focused on technology -- one time on SharePoint 2010 and another on Google Apps," Lane said. In most cases, they center on such subjects as how to get a seat at the table, a discussion that the CIO of Clorox led on one occasion. Another meeting brought in a CEO to talk about the seven types of leadership as they relate to company size. Another gathering was led by an attorney, who taught the group of 24 CIOs how to negotiate. "You are not going hear about RFID or flash drives in our meetings," Lane said.

Curriculum for the CIO role not for the faint of heart

Lane's latest brainchild -- his curriculum for future CIOs -- doesn't dole out tech tidbits either. The planned six courses and practicum are not for the faint of heart. Each course covers 30 hours of classes spread out over 10 weeks. Classes are followed by as many as six on-the-job CIO-role activities that the students must complete to earn what Lane envisions as a CIO certification. His suggested courses range from marketing principles and leadership to cost management and sourcing. The practicums could involve such topics as project management and procurement.

"For example, someone taking a practicum would have to ask their CIO if they could put together an IT budget for them and have it reviewed by that CIO," Lane said. "This certification won't be a three-day get-your-CIO-certification kind of thing that you see at some universities. Ours will be a one-and-a-half-year ordeal. You just can't cram the amount of CIO background these people will need into their brains in three days."

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Whether these courses will be offered through online learning or specific universities is still being determined -- as is who will teach them. Given the history of The Office of the CIO, what is certain is that they will be taught by people with hands-on experience. Courses could tap the expertise of the group's 24 CIOs, as well as the other arm of The Office of the CIO -- a professional services program that offers CIO-to-CIO consulting services, Lane said.

Lane himself learned from the school of hard knocks. After college and after tours of duty with the Navy, his first assignment was to build a purchasing system for AlliedSignal, including coding and implementing it. By the time he left AlliedSignal (now Honeywell International Inc.), he was the corporate materials manager in charge of 26 divisions, 102 facilities and $1.8 billion in inventory. He's since held business and IT leadership positions at AT&T, Ernst & Young LLP and Thiokol (now ATK Launch Systems Group).

Lane jokes about his vast and varied 30 years of professional experiences, but part of his foundation as a CIO came from a 13-month "tour of duty" at the Control Data Institute in Los Angeles in the '90s while he worked for AlliedSignal. The school no longer exists, but it was a rigorous, in-your-face education -- four-and-a-half-hour IT classes, four nights a week for 13 months -- all while he worked his day job at AlliedSignal.

"The first gunslinger (executive headhunter) came after me while I was working for Ernst & Young because I had a combination of business and IT experience," Lane recalled. He had just completed a negotiation where he had re-engineered all the supplier contracts for one of Ernst & Young's clients, General Dynamics. One of those suppliers was eager to land the man with the negotiation skills for the CIO role. "That's what future CIOs need," Lane said, "to learn how to be a CEO of the IT department."