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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Would Credentials Make the Higher Education CIO a "Professional"? | EDUCAUSE Review

Without generally recognized professional credentials, can the higher education CIO be called a "professional" leader in information technology? Or should we consider the job as descriptive rather than a career stage in a recognized profession? Does it even matter?


Photo: Kyle Johnson
"What skills does a CIO in higher education need, and what evidence might demonstrate possession of those skills?" notes Kyle Johnson, Dean for Information Technology & Services, Chaminade University of Honolulu.

Photo: EDUCAUSE Review

A recent discussion on an e-mail list I follow (yes, I still subscribe to and participate in e-mail lists) caused me to think about this question anew. With permission, here's part of what a colleague wrote:
"A related question that I sometimes ponder is whether CIO-hood is a genuine profession. As professionals (doctors, lawyers, librarians, and others) often remind me, a 'professional is someone who has completed extensive and rigorous training in order to obtain generally recognized credentials to practice in a specific field.' CIOs, on the other hand, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and, while there are graduate programs that provide concentrations in IT management, there is no widely accepted credential for CIO-hood. I've known CIOs with doctoral degrees, master's degrees, bachelor's degrees, and no degrees whatsoever. And, at least in my experience, degrees don't seem to be correlated with CIO success. So I guess my question back to you is, *should* there be a generally accepted training program and credential for CIO-hood?"
My first experience with a professional certification was in 1993 when I became a Certified Apple Repair Technician. I was one of two CARTs in my location, and this allowed the company to do Apple warranty repairs. I later also became a Certified Novell Administrator (CNA), mostly because my company needed a certain number of CNAs to get a reseller status they wanted. So by 1994 I was a two-time professional — and everything "professional" about my career has been downhill since.

After moving to higher education IT, I had a track record of continuous growth and improvement that helped the organization succeed and thrive, attended conferences that expanded my knowledge and network exponentially — and garnered absolutely no professional certifications. My professional downward spiral continued for over a decade until I landed my first CIO appointment in 2007, at which point I had evidently hit rock bottom and joined the amateur ranks permanently.

I have served as CIO at three different institutions, each of which has required a different set of skills. Some CIO positions are technical: you work right next to the other IT staff on much of the day-to-day technical work. Others are general: you set direction and mentor staff, but the staff members do most of the operational work. Some are utility oriented: you keep the network running and the servers on. Others are partnerships with the "business" side of the house: these are process and mission driven. Most are some combination.

While I long to be considered a professional, I'm hard pressed to say what a CIO certification in higher education would look like. If it covers only the core things that every CIO position probably has in common (leading an organization, managing staff, etc.) then it seems too watered down to call a CIO certification. If it covers more, certification as a CIO risks having multiple different specializations (large public, small public, R1 private, religiously affiliated private, community college, etc.).

At the end, if I were putting together a certification program, I would want to make sure that people in the CIO role (or interested in it) have:
  • a good core of leadership, management, and communication skills;
  • a broad enough understanding of IT to listen, ask good questions (and understand the answers), and evaluate impacts of decisions;
  • a passion for learning new things (and a tolerance for failure while learning them);
  • a social presence and a desire to contribute to the profession; and
  • the self-awareness to understand what kinds of institutions will match what they're looking for in a CIO role and the ability to figure that out during the interview process.
Of those, the last is perhaps the most important and most overlooked.
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Source: EDUCAUSE Review


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