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Big company vs. small company

"Really good, successful CIOs stick their necks out and make bold moves," says Paul Tallon, assistant professor of information systems at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, Chestnut Hill, MA. Tallon has interviewed more than 200

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CIOs while studying risk management and the organizational impact of IT. "You need to recognize [that] technology is an enabler and use it to solve problems. If you wait for a business user to come to you with a problem, it's too late," he says.

"A CIO well-versed in business terminology, coming up through the ranks, pulls technology into place," Tallon notes. He says it's possible to begin in storage and become CIO, but you'll need a broader skill set. "Pursue an MBA or take business courses, and put yourself in a position to be rotated into other parts of the business," he says.

Tallon says companies use technology in two ways: for exploration and exploitation. "IT departments tend to exploit technology. Someone who comes from a different part of the business is more likely to favor exploration, and will tend to be more willing to accept risk," he points out. He urges advancement-minded storage experts to throw off the "bunker mentality" to see the bigger picture. "Increasingly, CIOs will be boundary spanners, bridge builders. The job requires someone who can take information at a technical level and translate it into information that business users can use," he says.

What skills are today's CIOs looking for in the people who will succeed them? "A computer science student who knows biology would be worth her weight in gold," he says. "Part of the reason we don't have more candidates with that profile is the way universities are organized into stovepipes. We train people with a natural focus in a specific discipline, but opportunities are at the intersections of disciplines." This is the opportunity for storage people. "It will be folks in the IT department who will reach out to customers, who will understand the issues and solve problems," he says.

You don't necessarily need an MBA. "[They] may be too highly focused," says Tallon. "Think about a Master of Science degree that cuts across technology and business. Accounting and technology, life sciences and technology, financial services and technology are skills for advancement."

According to Tallon, if you're a storage manager, in five years you need to do the following to be seen as credible and to be considered for the role of CIO:
  • Educate yourself about the business side of the house.
  • Understand the issues your customers are facing.
  • Become more service-oriented.
  • Put together solutions that solve business, not technology, problems.
  • Take advanced courses, especially accounting, accounting systems and business law.
There are differences in how a storage group will be assembled in a small- or medium-sized business vs. a large enterprise. Experience in a demanding, regulated environment—a public company, financial services or insurance—is a plus for storage experts looking to grow their role. Smaller or privately held companies may not benefit from a dedicated storage group. In these organizations, system administrators, network administrators and their managers may assume responsibility for data at various points in its lifecycle.

Whether a storage team is built from the beginning to manage storage, or is an assemblage of IT and storage experts, those tasked with storage management are responsible for (at least) the following activities:

  • Performance planning
  • Maintaining storage architecture alignment
  • Capacity planning
  • Provisioning storage
  • Day-to-day storage operations
These activities span the management of data and resources across four storage subcategories:
  • Primary disk storage
  • Backup and operational recovery, including compliance
  • Disaster recovery
  • Tape vaulting
It's been a good path to job security to specialize in one of the above storage areas. However, while some degree of specialization may seem like a good career move, it can ultimately limit your growth toward the CIO role.

"Organizations are now building groups that focus on storage, but storage roles are also starting to converge," says Jim Geis, director of storage solutions marketing at Skokie, IL-based Forsythe Technology Inc. "Backup, restore, recovery and replication skills are merging with archiving. If you specialize in a specific technology or concept, you're doing yourself a disservice," Geis warns. "Being able to understand the big picture is more valuable for many companies."

This was first published in December 2005

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