5 certifications for aspiring CIOs

Leaders list credentials that can help IT professionals move up the ladder

Federal CIO Certificate Program

Today’s chief information officer must be a technological innovator, a business manager, an acquisitions expert, a strategic thinker and a politician, according to those who have made it to the top ranks of their profession.

Increasingly, federal agencies and leading companies want information executives with a broad range of skills. Certifications help prospective employers verify those skills, and they give aspiring CIOs the training and social contacts they will need when they become CIOs.

Certifications alone won’t get you the job, said Michael Carleton, CIO at the General Services Administration. “But they might tilt the scales in your favor,” he added, provided you have the necessary experience and accomplishments. “It adds an element of credibility to a résumé.”

Hiring managers notice a certification when it appears on a person’s list of qualifications. “That could be a differentiating factor that allows one to stand out from a colleague,” said Jim Flyzik, a former CIO at the Treasury Department who is now president of the Flyzik Group, a consulting company.

Members of the CIO Council believe that successful certification programs for IT managers should teach a combination of management, business and technology skills, said Flyzik, a former vice chairman of the CIO Council.

In the past 10 years, CIO certification programs have emerged from academic institutions, commercial educational organizations, technology corporations and professional societies. Depending on a person’s level of experience, ambition and focus, the following five programs offer some of the best IT management certifications.

1. Carnegie Mellon University’s Federal CIO Certificate program

Carnegie Mellon University is one of the top IT educational institutions in the world, and its Federal CIO Certificate program is among the most prestigious and competitive. The program is designed for senior IT managers and CIOs. “We’re targeting a more senior audience than many of the other schools,” said Janet Cohen, executive director of CMU’s CIO Institute.

The institute awards about 15 certificates each year. The program consists of a series of four-day intensive courses. Students can complete the program in a year or they can take longer if they need to, Cohen said. Courses are offered at CMU’s site in Arlington, Va. Course credits can be applied to the university’s master of science degree in IT.

The institute is part of CIO University, a group of universities that offer programs designed to train federal CIOs.

CMU develops its curriculum with the CIO Council, which revises the required competencies for CIO certification every two years.

The university’s certificate program has a good reputation among IT professionals, said alumna Urusa Salman, vice president of Nartech, an IT services firm. “It’s more respected and better taken by our clients.”

2. University of Maryland University College’s CIO Executive Certificate Program

The University of Maryland University College’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and involvement with the federal government offer advantages to those who enroll in its CIO Executive Certificate Program. UMUC, which is part of CIO University, is known for its cybersecurity and information assurance programs.

Most of the college’s CIO certificate graduates go on to complete master’s degrees at UMUC, said Mel Albin, executive director of the program. About two-thirds of the students who enroll in the certificate program are government employees, he added.

Students typically complete the program’s four courses in 12 months at UMUC’s Adelphi, Md., campus. But beginning in the fall of 2007, the college will offer the certificate program online, making it the first fully online CIO University program, Albin said.

The college will make the program available worldwide, along with the five master’s degree options that UMUC’s Graduate School of Management and Technology offers.

Barry West, CIO at the Commerce Department, is an alumnus of UMUC’s CIO Executive Certificate Program.

3. National Defense University’s Advanced Management Program

If international networking is your goal, the National Defense University’s Advanced Management Program, which includes a CIO certificate, is probably unmatched. NDU’s 14-week, full-time program draws Defense Department and civilian IT managers and representatives from allied coalition partner countries.

The program, part of NDU’s Information Resources Management College, is designed for mid- and senior-level leaders. It is not part of CIO University, but NDU regularly updates its courses to meet the CIO Council’s requirements, said Kathleen Shulin, the program’s director.

NDU’s CIO certificate program is included within the Advanced Management Program, but students can earn the certificate without completing the entire program. Students also can take the CIO certificate courses online. NDU lets students earn 15 credits that they can apply toward a master’s degree at more than a dozen partner universities.

“The focus is very much on management and leadership and how we leverage all our information resources,” including human resources, said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Franks, a member of the British Royal Navy who is also an Advanced Management Program alumnus and faculty member. Because of the program’s intense schedule, students develop strong bonds, he said.

4. Society for Information Management’s Regional Leadership Forum

A lesser-known certification option is available from the Regional Leadership Forum administered by the Society for Information Management. The forum is designed to help IT professionals make the transition into business leadership positions.

“It is all about developing soft skills and self-knowledge,” said Carleton, who is a facilitator for the forum. IT and project management are not part of the curriculum.

Participants meet in groups of 20 to 30 at nine regional locations for six two-day sessions in a nine-month period. Then all the students gather in Dallas at the end of the year for a graduation ceremony.

Many forum participants work at large companies or corporations such as Freddie Mac, AT&T Wireless and Anheuser-Busch. Graduates receive a certificate of completion, but the real benefits are attaining a sense of your own identity and goals as an IT manager, Carleton said. With more than 1,000 past participants, the program has created a valuable alumni network, he added.

5. Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional Certificate

Not ready for the CIO chair just yet? That’s no reason to let your education stall, according to workforce experts who say that IT project managers are in short supply. A Project Management Professional Certificate from the Project Management Institute is among the most widely recognized credentials in the industry.

Welcome to CIO UniversityIn 2000, the General Services Administration and the CIO Council formed partnerships with graduate schools to train senior technology executives in the federal government.

The result was CIO University, a virtual consortium of partner universities’ degree and certification programs in information technology. Administered by GSA under the CIO Council’s authority, CIO University issues curriculum and competency guidelines as it is authorized to do under the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and the E-Government Act of 2002.

The six partner universities are:

1. Carnegie Mellon University, Federal CIO Certificate program.

2. George Mason University, master of science in technology management.

3. George Washington University, master of science in information systems technology.

4. La Salle University, master of science in IT leadership with chief information technology university certification.

5. Syracuse University (Washington, D.C., campus), master of science in information management.

6. University of Maryland University College, CIO Executive Certificate Program.

— Josh Rogin

Certification seekers, be aware and beware

Graduate degrees, government certifications and private chief information officer certifications are all valuable in helping an applicant stand out. But not all certifications hold the same value, some federal CIOs say.

Vendor-specific certifications should be approached skeptically, said Michael Carleton, CIO at the General Services Administration. Such programs often are part of a product marketing scheme designed to create cadres of information technology professionals loyal to a specific company’s technologies. Such certifications are acceptable in a marketplace but somewhat limited in their scope, Carleton said.

“I would say that [such a] credential is explicitly narrower than the credential that you would have if you went” to an academic program, he said.

Prospective CIOs should prepare themselves for lifelong learning to keep up with an ever-changing industry, he said.

In choosing a certification program, a school’s accreditation is the most important thing to check, said Jim Flyzik, a former Treasury Department CIO. “A lot of entities out there are essentially selling certifications as opposed to having you earn them,” he said.

In addition to earning certifications, aspiring CIOs should develop their careers through traditional means as well, Flyzik said. He urged them to find a mentor, network at every opportunity and volunteer for anything that will add to their experience or contacts. “It’s a combination of schooling, experience and building relationships,” he said.

— Josh Rogin

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