Sometime last year I was attending one of those IT executive conferences.

Not one of the self-serving ‘rah rah’ events that are a sort of cross between an educational seminar and a group hug, but one with a clear business focus. Indeed, attendees included corporate and line-of-business executives as well as CIOs.

As I listened to one of the presentations I found myself thinking that this guy, a CIO of some stature, was an engineer speaking as if to a group of engineers. Given the strategic focus of both the conference and the description of his session, it seemed he was exemplifying the long-standing complaint of the non-IT executive community; namely that many CIOs are ‘techies’ who fail to communicate in terms meaningful to the business. It’s a tired view perhaps, and one that most CIOs are sick of hearing, but as it happens, my subsequent conversations with him and the direction his career has taken tend to confirm that this, at least in his case, is a problem.

But in some organizations there’s an almost opposite and equally worrisome problem. It’s a manifestation of the much-discussed ‘IT Doesn’t Matter’ issue in which IT knowledge is being eroded and outsourced, leaving some organizations with little or no internal IT savvy. It’s one thing to say a CIO needs to understand the business and be able to communicate and contribute to business strategic thinking, it’s quite another to say a CIO has no need of technical experience or understanding.

I prefer to make the decisions about my health and medical treatment, but I do so after weighing the advice of my doctor. If it came to surgery, which of us do you think I would want performing the operation?

Technology components may be commodity items, but knowing how to take advantage of them and how to build a sustainable, scalable technology infrastructure relies on knowledge and experience. The application of the whole to the challenges of business still requires a partnership that leverages the technical know how of the IT-experienced executive with the business savvy of the line-of-business executives. They need a common language, but they are both critical to the success of business.