“Why can’t I get e-mail when e-mail is down?”

IT called the users that the email server was down. What came next was the question above from the CEO of the company to his CIO. Nope. I am not making it up. No emphasis added. Real question. Real CEO.

What’s sad about this is that this executive is not alone. Testimonials of this sort abound. Ask any IT professional, and she’ll give you more examples than are fit to print. And, just as I pointed out in my previous entry “It’s the Technology, Stupid” integrating technology thinking into the daily life of today’s c-suite is not just nice-to-have. It’s a must have. Managing IT will make the difference between prosperous and successful companies, and those that will be made into case studies of “what-could-we-have-done-better?” and “where-did-all-the-money-go?”

Which begs a few practical questions: For instance, exactly how much IT knowledge does a C-level executive need? How much IT expertise is necessary? What constitutes minimum core competency in IT? And, how does one go about mastering this essential skill? Especially since the world of IT is in constant flux.

I like to use the car as an example. I find surprising parallels between the car and IT. For example, they are both inconspicuous in our everyday life. At this point we can’t imagine a world without them. Both are essential. Both take you to your destination. And if you are not careful with either, you can get into very serious trouble.

So, how much do you need to know about your car? I think we can all agree that you need to master a few things: How to select one, start it, stop it, navigate with it, be safe in it, put fuel in it, know when to maintain it, and effect some repairs on it. You don’t need to be a mechanic, but you do need to know how to change tires, and top off the fluids. Also, I’m sure we agree that drinking and driving are a very bad idea, too! I call this the minimum core competency needed to operate and co-exist with this tool: The car.

I propose you treat IT exactly the same way. No more. No less. You only need to master a few things. You don’t need to be a mechanic – that’s why you have a whole IT department. But, you do need to know enough to be able to decide what kind of IT you want, and what to do with it when you have it. Even effect some repairs! It’s not as hard as you think. As a matter of fact, in upcoming blog entries I’ll walk you through the essential IT skills you must have to succeed in your leadership role. And, how to never end up as road kill on the information highway!

Now, please fasten your seatbelts!

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