Back to School: A Survey of University-based IT Executive Development Programs

Now that IT is playing an increasingly important role in both the strategic and operational management of businesses, developing a strong IT senior management team is an essential survival mechanism for today’s overly stretched CIOs.

As one CIO explained, “I can only be in so many places. If I didn’t have a senior management team I could depend on, I’d be working 18-hour days.” Furthermore, with CIOs now part of corporate executive teams, succession planning is increasingly imperative. Boards of Directors everywhere are concerned companies have a good succession plan in place for each of their senior executives. It is therefore a key responsibility of every CIO to ensure there is enough strength in the IT management ranks to ensure both the vigour and the continuity of IT leadership.

However, good senior IT managers take time to develop. Although personal coaching and mentoring of selected staff can help them grow, they also need a broad range of personal, business, technical and managerial skills that must be taught and fostered. In today’s complex business environment, cultivating an effective senior IT manager takes more than on-the-job experience. Many businesses are turning to universities for programs to help broaden the skills and abilities of key staff and prepare them to lead at the highest levels in the organization.

In response to this need, executive development programs at universities are burgeoning. Yet, while many universities offer MBA programs for executives, and some offer general executive development courses, only a few offer specialized programs for IT leaders. And it is not always easy for a CIO to navigate through what’s available to find them. CIO Canada therefore surveyed the wide variety of executive development programs currently being offered by Canadian universities to find the ones which are specifically targeted to growing senior IT managers. Community and technical college programs were excluded from this survey as being better-suited to the needs of more junior managers.

There are four general types of programs that may be of interest to CIOs and their senior management teams: Executive Development Programs Focusing on IT Leadership, General Executive Development Programs with an IT Focus, Specialized Degree Programs, and Other Programs of Interest.

Executive Development Programs Focusing on I.T. Leadership

These executive development programs are specifically designed for senior IT managers and are not part of a degree program (e.g., MBA). Unlike traditional university courses, executive development programs tend to be more interactive and case-based and emphasize practical, real-world relevance. Sharing and networking with one’s peers in other organizations frequently builds strong relationships between the participants that continue to pay off when they are back on the job. Such programs typically involve several days of a manager’s time. Four of the best-known programs include:

Leading Strategic IT Initiatives at the University of Western Ontario. This week-long program is offered by the Ivey School of Business in London, Ont., in partnership with the Canadian Information Processing Society. It is designed to help participants: gain a broader understanding of the links between IT and corporate strategy; develop leadership skills in IT management; and learn how to manage the assimilation of new technologies. It also aims to improve a participant’s confidence in accepting IT leadership roles. Executives stay in well-appointed guest residences on the university campus and participate in social activities and team-building exercises as well as learning activities. Cost is approximately $6,000. More information is available at

McGill’s ‘Using Information Technology’ and ‘Electronic Marketing and Commerce’. McGill’s Executive Institute offers these two three-day seminars for senior managers. Both offer a business-oriented perspective on technology, and are also appropriate for non-IT managers seeking a better understanding of what technology can do for their organization. ‘Using Information Technology’ offers an overview of technology and IT solutions, networks, electronic commerce and the costs and benefits of IT. ‘Electronic Marketing and Commerce’ explores trends in business and communications that are developing as a result of technology use and examines uses of the Internet, database marketing and e-commerce in business. Each seminar costs $1,500 and is offered in Montreal. More information is available at

Information Technology at Queen’s University. Queen’s University’s Executive Development Centre offers an intensive five-day course in Kingston, Ont., that focuses on helping managers to use IT to their competitive advantage. Participants learn how to develop a leading-edge strategy for IT aligned with their organization’s business goals. Queen’s uses a copyrighted approach designed to give managers a firm grasp of the right concepts and tools for integrating IT, operating procedures, and people into a cohesive plan. Cost is $6,900 and includes a follow-up service that provides further support and advice to managers when back on the job. Information can be found at

Queen’s ‘IT Management Forum’ and ‘CIO Brief’. Queen’s University School of Business offers two ongoing opportunities in Toronto for senior IT managers to learn and grow from each other. The ‘IT Management Forum’ looks at topics, selected by the participants themselves, of immediate and critical concern to them and their organizations. Executives meet for a day four times a year to explore, share experiences, learn from their peers, and work out solutions to their common concerns. After the meeting, the Queen’s facilitators prepare a white paper of concepts, trends, and best practices in the topic area. The cost is $5,000 for a one-year membership. The ‘CIO Brief’ brings together heads of IT from leading-edge organizations to exchange best practices concerning IT strategy. The quarterly, half-day meetings feature guest CIOs speaking about the challenges he or she has faced on the job. The cost is $1,000 for a one-year membership. More information about both programs is available from Prof. Jim McKeen at

General Executive Development Programs with an I.T. Focus

It is interesting to note despite its ubiquitous nature in organizations, not all executive development programs pay attention to IT. In fact, in many, managing IT is conspicuous by its absence. Nevertheless, several general executive development programs include a unit on IT. These programs are typically longer and more broadly focused than those concentrating solely on IT leadership. Their goal is to develop good general managers rather than good IT managers. Residence at the course site is usually required.

HEC’s Centre International de Recherces et d’Etudes en Management (CIREM). HEC, the business school of the Universit