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CCIE vs. MBA vs...?

When CIOs look to add talent to their staffs right now, who should they be recruiting: employees with deep technical skills or deep business skills? That's one argument raging in corporate IT departments over the benefits of hiring staff with technical certifications such as Cisco Certified Internet Expert (CCIE) or business degrees.

Overall, CIOs are more focused on business issues than technical issues as they emerge from the latest recession. In a recent survey conducted by SIM, CIOs reported that their top three concerns were: IT and business alignment; business agility and speed to market; and business productivity and cost reduction - all issues that indicate a need for business skills rather than technical skills.

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Of CIO's top 10 concerns, eight were business related and only two were technical. The two technical concerns - ranked sixth and seventh respectively - were IT reliability and efficiency; and enterprise architecture/infrastructure capability. But even these technical areas don't require certifications as difficult to earn as a CCIE.

This shift towards CIOs focusing on business rather than technical issues coincides with an increase in infrastructure outsourcing, says Jerry Luftman, Distinguished Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology who compiled the SIM survey. "There's more onshore outsourcing than offshore outsourcing," Luftman added, pointing out that 18% of CIOs plan to outsource the running of infrastructure and data centers onshore in 2012 while 11% plan to outsource these services offshore.

Despite the need for business skills, MBAs aren't a slam dunk in corporate IT departments. Jon Green, vice president of IT for Den-Mat, a Santa Maria, Calif., dental products manufacturer, says he needs IT staff who can help transform the business through adoption of new technology.

"I've had bad luck with MBAs," Green says. "I hired a Harvard MBA who did not understand the adoption processes of IT and that you can't just put a system in front of a person and expect them to use it. But it really depends more on the person than the title."

Green says he is increasingly outsourcing functions such as server and LAN administration that require technical certifications. "We always need people with business analysis training, who understand systems and change management. That is more valuable to me than who can set up the servers and manage them."

As for what all this has meant for technical certifications such as the CCIE, Cisco says its certification program is continuing to grow and that it has seen no change in exam registrations in recent years due to the recession or other industry trends such as the shift to cloud computing. Cisco said the total community of Cisco technically-qualified individuals now numbers roughly 1.7 million.

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The bottom line is that CIOs need staff with both types of accreditations for different reasons and different roles in the organization, says David Foote with consultancy Foote Partners.

"They may not need people with CCIEs if they are outsourcing those infrastructure pieces and don't require that kind of in-house talent that might make that [certification] attractive," Foote says. "MBA degrees are useful particularly in hybrid IT-Business jobs, but people in these roles may report to a CIO or a line of business, product group or corporate function...Those degrees are sometimes earned by people who start out in IT and want to expand their career options, but you also find people who started on the business side with an MBA and then acquire IT skills via a variety of channels."

Foote adds that "it all depends on how IT investment and deployment is managed in the enterprise."

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.


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