Network Rail CIO Susan Cooklin's advice to aspiring CIOs is to "think business strategy, not technical IT strategy".

Cooklin, who was talking to CIO columnist Ade McCormack about mobile strategy and work-life balance in the C-suite, described the CIO career as not being a route for the faint-hearted, although she does recommend it.

"If you are doing it properly, you get to understand the whole of the company end to end and have the opportunity to influence at all levels," she said.

Cooklin, whose IT background was in financial services before being persuaded to join Network Rail in 2006 under CIO Catherine Doran - whom Cooklin replaced in October 2009 when Doran became director of corporate development - said that the best piece of career advice she had been given was to make the most of the CIO role to launch into other areas.

Last week former Daily Mail & General Trust CIO David Henderson, now COO at recruitment firm Evenbase, argued on CIO UK that becoming a chief operating officer was the logical step for ambitious technology executives, and Cooklin agreed that if she could take a C-suite sabbatical she would choose a COO or CEO challenge.

She described these as "another cross company executive position with the ability to influence within and outside the organisation".

Cooklin also challenged the vendor community to understand their customers' business strategies better, while saying she was optimistic about the challenges that the next 12 months will bring.

"The economy has to get better at some point," she said.

McCormack has quizzed a number of business technology executives on the benefits of remote working to the business, and whether it can be a burden for the IT function.

"If it's what the customer and business needs," Cooklin said, "then it's up to me to deliver it."