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IT Pro Asks: How Can I Go From Go-To Guy to Business-Savvy CIO?

An IT professional seeks advice on making the jump from go-to guy to CIO.

"I admit it. I let myself get labeled as a 'utility player.' I'm often the go-to guy for IT projects, but now the CEO is talking about bringing someone in with more business savvy for the CIO role. Short of getting my MBA, what can I do to show that I'm a star player and right for the job?"

Our expert panel weighs in:

Windy Warner, Pro Coach Inc., Dallas
Stop thinking like an IT person and start thinking like this is your business. You need to prove that you understand issues from the business perspective and care about the bottom line. First, you've got to get out of your office and talk to your CEO and other execs about their specific goals and challenges. Second, you need to drop the IT jargon -- which you probably use more than you think -- from your conversations with non-IT executives. Be conscious of how you can contribute to the business side. You may be able to provide information about competitors and ideas on improving products. Be observant and creative.

Jean Fuller, Fuller Coaching, Woodside, Calif.
First, you need to define what business savvy means to the CEO: Is it using business language or decision logic with ROI, or is it about building stronger partnerships with business units? Do you have a sense of what business savvy would look like? Does it mean actively solving IT-business problems? Then get clear on why you settle for utility-player roles. Chances are your manager sends these projects your way, which can be a recipe for career derailment. Next, begin appropriate self-promotion. Try to demonstrate examples of your business savvy, and develop a set of talking points. Engage allies, and start crafting high-visibility projects with business impact. This might mean jettisoning some utility projects, so make the case for the bottom-line business value that will come from your involvement in higher-impact projects.

Renee Arrington, Pearson Partners International Inc., Dallas
First, don't despair. Being the go-to guy isn't a bad thing. It means that you're a trusted adviser and someone whom management can count on for critical projects. I've worked with many CIOs that were previously the go-to guy. One sign of a star player is someone who can develop a strong team, so remember to share the credit. Having an MBA is not the only path to gaining business savvy. It's also essential to earn the respect of your business partners by consistently delivering results. Become a new kind of go-to guy by developing IT projects that have business value.

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