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Posted by David Brown, EVP, Veredus, a Hays company, on Thursday, Apr 6, 2017
Do you have a job, or a career? What does it take to become an IT business leader? Develop your career with these insights from ASI Government CIO Balaji Ramanujam on his career path to the top and advice for ambitious IT and technology professionals.
Have you always aspired to becoming a senior leader in IT?
No, I’ve always aspired to be a problem solver and my spirit of innovation seems to inspire others. My aptitude in IT, math and logic also helps me stay credible and “hands-on.” The leadership part came naturally.
Was IT always your career path?
Growing up, I wanted to solve problems like Edison. This wasn’t about solving just a science problem, but bringing out a solution that would impact communities and businesses at scale. That goal has always led me to IT because IT is the biggest lever that exists today to solve problems, especially with digital capabilities and hyper-connectivity maturing.
Get more IT career insights: Register for the DNA of a CIO webinar on May 31.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
The combination of creativity, problem solving and the ability to translate solutions into an IT capability that would directly help the business/revenue. Those three aspects can come together in a unique way in IT. You develop creative ideas or solutions, then you figure out how to make those ideas work, and finally you have to be able to integrate that solution into the business. It’s that full cycle from idea to revenue generation.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How have you overcome it?
IT continues to be viewed as a cost center, and budget constraints are always going to be reality for IT leaders. Any negative impact on the business will directly affect IT budget, even when IT can save the business through innovation and through minimal investments (or as we call it, Minimum Viable Product).
We can overcome this through a positive attitude and creativity. Do your best within the constraints, that is, never stop to innovate and directly help the revenue stream until the lights go off!
What soft skills/characteristics are integral to the role?
Story-telling and simplifying hard technical facts are critical soft skills a CIO needs to have. You need to be able to communicate and build trust with the board, c-level peers, customers, staff and all stakeholders including vendors or suppliers. It’s not enough to know the IT function, you need to understand how it fits into the business overall, and be able to communicate that connection with your peers and other stakeholders. Communication is key.
How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
This may sound like an overstatement, but I believe it to be true. IT is like oxygen to the business, so understanding every area of the business is critical.
In your opinion, how important is networking?
Your ‘people network’ is far more important that a ‘computer network.’ The IT guy could be a diamond, but without networking, there would be no opportunity to shine. People hire people, not just skill sets. Networking has played a role throughout my career, and I think it’s still critical today.
Is there anything you would have differently looking back at your career path?
I would have taken more risks early on and implemented many of my creative solutions as an entrepreneur. The fear of failure and the fear of the unknown was heavier back then.
Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, how would you say your role has evolved?
5 to 10 years ago, IT was an enabler and a trusted advisor. Now I think of IT as a game changer. CIOs can create new opportunities that can drive revenue and differentiate. They can also build a sustained capability through IT innovation. For example, Domino’s wants to be seen as an IT company that happens to make pizzas and food. It wants to connect with the customer first, and then sell. This is an IT-powered paradigm shift.
What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a IT leader?
Don’t be afraid to fail as you are innovating002E Always ask “why” to any IT decision and how every action or capability would help the business.
As an IT leader, what keeps you up at night?
The lack to understanding or appreciation for IT capabilities in the C-suite, which can lead to lack of trust and focus, or on the other extreme end, the “silver bullet” syndrome that IT can solve all business problems.
What are you doing to keep growing your career?
Understanding as many business models as I can, and identify areas where IT can create new revenue opportunities. I’m also subscribed to many peer-groups, network feeds, events and places where I can grow my knowledge on emerging trends, risks and innovation.
Want to know more? Register for the DNA of a CIO webinar on May 31, or talk to your recruiter today to hear their expert advice.
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