The best of jobs, the worst of jobs

One of the most challenging -- and rewarding -- jobs in IT is CIO in a mid-tier organization ($100 million to $1.2 billion in revenue). Many mid-tier organizations are like middle school students, acting very childishly one minute and incredibly sophisticated the next. Management styles, process formality and organizational practices vary widely. Mid-tier organizations are large enough to require the robust systems, formal operating policies and mature governance structures of larger companies, while still needing to approach many tasks with the informality and flexibility of a small company.

As a result, mid-tier organizations present a unique set of challenges to the CIO and his or her staff, including:

All CIOs need the gravitas to be perceived as a peer of the other executives. Without it, they will not garner the respect necessary to manage the corporate project prioritization process. But with many fewer staff than their Fortune 500 counterparts, mid-tier CIOs also need enough technology expertise to be respected by their IT staff and to avoid being viewed simply as a "suit." The best mid-tier CIOs have a broad set of skills. They are equally comfortable discussing detailed technology options, project management methodologies and shareholder value.

As a result of budget constraints, very few mid-tier organizations have enough people to staff the service desk or server center for 24/7 operations. Hours of support are frequently shorter than the business would like, and after-hours support is often provided by a single person, with backup from on-call staff. Vacations and holidays create scheduling nightmares. But the CIO is still accountable to unhappy customers.

Even with all of the IT challenges, most mid-tier organizations are great places to work. The best ones are very nimble and have far less bureaucracy than large organizations. During a single afternoon meeting, two or three people can make a decision that would take a large, bureaucratic organization six months. Since there are fewer levels between customers and decision makers, mid-tier organizations can change direction quickly when presented with new information. People who wish to avoid travel may prefer mid-tier organizations, which usually have a smaller geographic footprint and require far less long-term or global travel assignments.

Mid-tier CIOs face unique challenges and enjoy unique benefits. They must be willing to determine the root cause of a server failure one minute then discuss business strategy the next. They're the ultimate jack-of-all-trades: project manager, business strategist, technology specialist, vendor manager, IT architect -- and fire hydrant. But for individuals with broad expertise and a desire to do something different every day, this may be the ultimate dream job.


Bart Perkins

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