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Panel discussion: tech getting easier

CIOs looking for 'broader range of skills'

Technology is getting easier, so CIOs (chief information officers) are looking for a broader range of skills when they hire. That was one nugget that came out of a CIO panel discussion at a private function hosted by PC Advisor's publisher IDG in Toronto this week.

Helen Polatajko, CIO of CIBC Mellon, a joint venture between CIBC, Canada's fifth-largest bank, and financial services giant Mellon Financial, said tech knowledge still matters but "fit with the team is more important". She has 120 people in her group and recently hired a dedicated human resources person.

Loren Hicks, CIO of Lavalife, a US$100 million provider of technology-based meeting services for singles, agreed that tech is easier to learn now and said he puts a priority on passion when he hires for his team of 70. "I look for passion about something - it doesn't have to be about IT - figuring that passion will translate to work," he says.

Tech advances also are making it easier to deal with upper-echelon business managers, the CIOs said, because prevalence has led to a better understanding of technology and a somewhat better handle on what is feasible.

"In the old days the joke was, you'd put a PC on the president's desk and he wouldn't know how to turn it on," Hicks said. It's better now, but business management still needs to take more responsibility for harnessing the power of technology. "It's not all tech's fault. Nine woman can't make a baby in a month. It's the business side's responsibility, too."

The more business managers learn, the less time is wasted nay saying requests, the CIOs agreed.

"We have to teach them," said Ted Maulucci, CIO of Tridel, a leading builder of condominiums in the greater Toronto area. He requires people in his group to attend writing courses and some sales training to help in this regard.

At the same time, however, the CIOs agreed that technology management requires more business knowledge than ever. "Everyone has to be very business-savvy," Polatajko said. "You can no longer just be a technologist."

She runs the IT group as a business within CIBC Mellon and has direct input at the highest levels of the company, reporting to the CEO, along with six peers.

One of the topics the conversation turned to was outsourcing, and the group was generally enthusiastic. Maulucci said he had outsourced Exchange and web support successfully.

But Polatajko noted that managing outsourcing relationships isn't easy. "It is something like a marriage," she said. "You have to work at it. I agree that it is the way to go, but [service-level agreements] are never as tight as you thought."

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