According to research findings from Gartner, Inc., 24 percent of CIOs today have never had a job in IT before they became CIO.* About fifty percent of the students in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) program at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Michigan are majoring in business disciplines. Some 250,000 computer science students in India want to learn how to deal with people, not just technology. These are just three data points that reflect a seismic shift in expectations of CIOs that impact aspiring IT leaders.
There’s been a huge growth in GVSU’s ERP program sparked by high demand for people who understand the business, regardless of their major. “Students see that acquiring the ERP skill set makes them more marketable,” says Dr. Simha R. Magal, Professor of Management at GVSU. “Companies want people who know how end-to-end processes work.”
He says GVSU has also created a minor in ERP for chemistry, history, and other majors. This gives students deep knowledge in their discipline coupled with an understanding of broad cross-functional processes. It’s this combination of business and technology acumen that’s most valuable to companies.
People are job number one
Savvy students also know that communications skills are a must. Dr. Ashish Bharadwaj, CIO and Associate Professor at the University of Petroleum Energy & Studies (UPES) in Delhi, India, says that students in India generally view IT as the ‘go to’ course of study. However, they also need to understand industries and how to deal with people. “Only then can they move up the ranks of technology and business leadership,” he notes.
Communication skills are a practical consideration contends Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret, “because if you can’t speak in a language that the business understands, people won’t know what you’re trying to convey.” In order to get a deeper understanding of everything about the business, Evan Quinn, industry analyst at ESG, thinks CIOs need to put themselves in the shoes of the CEO, business unit leaders, and the competition.
IT plus business process expertise needed
Even so, it’s not easy to find people with the right mix of diverse skills. Krigsman points out that the educational and career paths of technical professionals have been very different from those in business. “Finding someone who embodies all these characteristics is really hard. Few people possess strong technology skills combined with business acumen and operating experience.” This is why many schools are revamping what business and computer science students learn.
*Focus, Connect, and Lead: Major Messages from Gartner Symposium 2012, September 2012 (webinar)
Next page: Where the jobs are – specialization
Magal says the GVSU curriculum has evolved to teach not just programming, databases and networking, but also how technology supports end-to-end processes. What’s more, every business major is required to take Introduction to MIS. “It’s not necessarily the IT or MIS major who will evolve into the CIO. It’s whoever understands what you do with the technology to bring value to the organization, those are the people who will evolve into the CIO role,” he explains.
Where the jobs are – specialization, innovations
Jobs are every student’s priority. The computer science curriculum at UPES features advanced industry-relevant specializations including cloud computing and virtualization, open source and open standards, and business analytics and optimization. “People with higher qualifications are taking more entry-level jobs so students are taking industry-aligned courses on specific technologies and domains to make themselves more employable,” says Bharadwaj.
Both UPES and GVSU partner with the SAP University Alliances Program (UAP), underscoring the need for close relationships between education and corporations in search of top talent. UAP member institutions receive custom-tailored courses that bring SAP’s software product simulations into the classroom, as well as professional networking opportunities at company-sponsored events. Demand is high for SAP technology courses across engineering and management programs at UPES, with over 1,000 students expected to participate in the next year. At GVSU, Magal wants as much access as possible to SAP’s innovations including cloud, mobile, and in-memory computing. “We have a huge demand from the students who go through our programs to acquire ERP skills,” he says, estimating that 1600 students use SAP ERP software each year. GVSU also plans to offer courses in analytics next year.
Most likely to succeed
The economic outlook may be uncertain but one thing is clear. Despite outsourcing and shrinking budgets, the CIO has never been more valuable. Entry-level IT graduates have a better job outlook than others. According to Magal, recruiters visiting GVSU have pushed up event dates because graduating students are snapped up if they wait too long into the semester. People who know the technology, the business, and how to communicate are blazing new routes to success, for themselves and their companies.