Informal education

So senior and so experienced.

Yet so stale. Are you well versed only in technologies that are at least 10 years old? Do you spend all your time on ROI, depreciation and staff issues, only to find that your tech skills are toast? It’s tough for senior managers to stay current on technology, which will always be a moving target. Could you accurately describe Wi-Fi, SOAP, P3P or LDAP to a member of your tech team? The task can be overwhelming. For instance, a CIO once pulled me out of a meeting and urgently whispered, “What in the world is XML?”

To stay on top, senior IT people must use a variety of tools and practices to make sense of the ever-changing technology landscape and evolving management philosophies and business practices. There might not be time for formal classes, but the CIOs I’ve talked with prefer the following inexpensive yet effective methods of updating their knowledge:

– See what your peers say.

There’s no substitute for talking with colleagues regularly. Try to do this in person. Offline communication is helpful, but it’s no substitute for in-person advice from trusted friends. Ask about business DSL installations and watch your colleagues roll their eyes because they can’t get carriers to respond to service orders; ask about VPNs and see how others are using them. Join an organized group of IT leaders either within or outside your company’s industry.

– Get out of your office and meet new people.

When you attend conferences, make the rounds at every cocktail party and networking opportunity. You may make lifetime friends and learn about technologies and practices that may not seem important now, but could be critical next year.

– Chat.

Talk with others via e-mail or online communities. The answers to your questions may come from someone in a different industry.

– Subscribe to online news services.

We all get electronic newsletters that clog our inboxes. But savvy IT practitioners define preferences and ask for relevant content through e-mail. Look for such services from business publications.

– Take business unit managers out to lunch.

For the price of a cheeseburger and a Coke, you can reap valuable intelligence about what’s going on in key parts of your company. Business unit managers will also be happy to spill the beans on what technologies your company’s competitors are using.

– Use research services you’ve already paid for.