Fewer than 40% of chief information officers are promoted from within, because of the extensive training and development needed to groom prospects for the role.
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But where there is an in-house promotion to the top IT job, the retained intellectual property, understanding and knowledge of the specific environment delivers big benefits for the company.
Tony Davison, recruitment director at Australian company Elan, said that although organisations strove to develop staff internally for a particular position, when it came to top-tier management, business understanding was all.
"A C-level role, be it CIO, CFO or CEO, implies an individual who is a business person first and foremost and will bring board-level business understanding to the table, and this will be coupled with experience in their technical field," Davison said.
According to Davison, chief information officers come from a range of backgrounds but usually have a postgraduate qualification and have worked in another business before returning to the IT fold with a broad business understanding. "Their business skills - coupled with good technical IT experience - mean they are able to work more effectively at the board level."
Davison said that Australian companies tended to hire for C-level roles externally, because of the challenges involved in developing people internally. But he pointed out that there were huge benefits in developing staff from within.
IT consultant Peter Bateson said the progression from IT manager to chief information officer would appear to be the natural step to take, but not all IT managers could take it, and not all chief information officers came from a management position.
"The difference between IT manager and CIO is that the CIO has a greater responsibility to the business as a whole and therefore is expected to have greater all-round business skills, communication skills, strategy and planning skills and appreciation of how IT can help the business to achieve its goals," he said.
"A lot of CIOs come from business management-related roles and have had exposure to IT along the way."
IT consultancy director Bruce Henderson said organisations typcially wouldn't even consider hiring a chief information officer internally unless there was a considered and planned succession strategy. He pointed out that hiring externally brought new skills and knowledge, which is critical in an innovation-focused role.
"An IT manager will only be offered a CIO role if there is already a serious plan in place to evolve into the role on a structured and timely basis, or if the IT manager is extremely talented," Henderson said.
Michael Crawford writes for Computerworld Today