Is your leader computer illiterate?

While taking a quick break, I caught a CNN piece on the comparative computer literacy between Obama and McCain. McCain admits to being computer illiterate and they showed a video clip of Obama almost walking into a concrete flower pot while reading his blackberry. Even George W gets into the piece when he says that people get on the internets to dial-up information. I am not getting into a political discussion on Obama vs. McCain here and I never will. But it got me to thinking about the computer literacy of company leaders and senior executives and how it affects the role of IT in an enterprise.

Is your CEO computer illiterate? Even if they are – does it matter? What really matters is that they understand the value of computing and IT within the organization. It is important that they see the value of IT as a strategic business tool. Even if they ask their assistant to print out all of their email messages so they can read them they can still leverage IT to gain an edge in the marketplace.

Is your CIO computer illiterate? No really! Does your CIO or IT Director or IT Manager embrace technology, love it, use it and evangelize its value to the organization and the world at large? Or do they view it as a beast that needs to be beaten into submission with heavy handed management strategies? I’ve talked to CIOs and IT Managers who seemed to be genuinely afraid of technology.

I was talking to a CIO on cell phone and he asked me to call him back on a land line (his end and my end) because he ‘didn’t like these damn cell phones’. An uncomfortable feeling came over me because of the way he said it. Was he talking about the particular model of phone he was using or because he had poor reception in the location he was at?  My gut told me he didn’t like technology all that much. Further into our conversation on land line it occurred to me that he was a manager first and an IT guy last. Although he had been in IT management in some form or other for almost twenty years the things he said tipped me off to the fact that he didn’t really like technology all that much. His job was to ‘manage’ technology. That was why the senior executive had just hired him into the CIO spot. His purpose in the life of the enterprise was to bring some order to chaos. He outlined to me the value of ITIL and how ‘processes’ and strict adherence to ‘procedures’ would allow him to turn things around. When I told him that I was heavily involved in Web 2.0 as a business tool ‘you know, things like wikis and blogs and social networking’, he replied that he had seen lots of fads come and go in his time and this would pass too. Letting users tell the IT department how to run technology is what created all the problems this company hired him to fix. At the end of the conversation he advised me to forget all about consumer driven fluff and focus on ‘managing’ IT. It would be good for my career.

Another IT Manager asked me to FAX him some information because he didn’t trust email. What? When I told him I didn’t have a fax machine (and I don’t) he said just put it into an envelope and mail it to him. So I did – I put all of the documentation in PDF format with hyperlinks along with some audio and video files on a CD and snail-mailed it to him. I never heard back from him. Maybe he didn’t trust CD’s because they make whirring noises and if you looked at the laser light you could go blind! And this guy was an IT Manager!

Maybe these are odd and unusual examples that I just happened to stumble upon. I think they are. On the other hand I always listen closely to what IT Managers say when they talk about technology. Most aren’t like the two examples above but some show signs of fear and hints of illiteracy. Time for retirement? Maybe!



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