How To Approach The First 90 Days As CIO
One of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a CIO is successfully transforming an IT organization to make a significant impact on an organization. This is one reason why CIO’s accept a new opportunity, as they embrace the challenge to take a company to the next level.
The first 90 days for a new CIO are extremely important. They have the attention of executive leadership and an open runway to chart a new course for IT and the company. To chart this course, the incoming CIO needs to define an IT strategy and execution plan. This article will outline an approach to define these items and position the incoming CIO for success.
The first step in implementing transformation is defining your approach. Your approach will layout the steps necessary for you to understand the company, culture, IT environment, challenges and strategic direction the company needs to go.
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Being new to the organization, you will need to function like an outside consultant conducting an assessment engagement. The will give you the mindset to understand how things operate, how people interact and the challenges that you face.
As with any engagement, there are multiple phases to be executed in order to achieve your objectives. From my past experience, I utilized an approach consisting of the following phases.
- Assess — understand and evaluate the current environment, challenges and direction
- Plan — develop a plan and strategy
- Align — reach out to executives, business leaders and stakeholders to align and garner support
- Execute — execute initiatives and measure performance
- Refine — ensure initiatives are being delivered as planned and refine your plan to address gaps, challenges or dynamic business needs
You most likely received insights into IT’s challenges during the interview process. These insights will help you as you assess IT and the organization.
Phase 1: Assess
In order to put together any type of go-forward plan, incoming CIO’s need to understand the current state of the company and the environment they are inheriting. Some important areas to assess are:
- IT Organization — is it organized to sufficiently support the company? Do you need staff? What is the support model?
- Infrastructure — is the technical environment dated? Is it secure? Is it redundant?
- Applications and Platforms — are they out of maintenance? Are there redundant solutions? Can they be consolidated? Are they difficult to maintain? Are they costly to maintain?
- IT Processes and Governance — are processes in place to govern and deliver solutions?
- Vendors/Service Providers — what vendors are you dependent on? Do you need to consolidate vendors to reduce costs? Are they adequately supporting the business?
- Contracts — how are contracts managed? When are they set to expire?
- Executives and Business Partners — how does IT interact with them? Is IT meeting their needs? What is their perception of IT? What are their future plans? How do they want to partner for the future?
The IT organization first and foremost needs to ensure the availability and accuracy of systems, as well as timely support. Often times, an incoming CIO may find that this is not the case. The IT organization may not be structured properly to provide timely service delivery. There may be lack of resources or skill issues affecting delivery. Help desk tickets take days or weeks to resolve. Enhancements and projects don’t get sufficient attention, thereby pushing out due dates by months or even years. A certain business unit may take up all up the IT resources since they complain the most. These issues may be apparent during the interview process with internal IT staff and business partners
Often times companies do not invest in their infrastructure in order to keep costs down. This adversely affects maintainability, security and potentially performance. There is a potential risk if items are out of maintenance and support. Is the technical environment architected properly? Is the environment redundant? Is it secure? These are key questions that need to be answered in order to ensure a redundant, secure operating environment. Is there a lot of in-house infrastructure? There may be opportunities to migrate towards the cloud to reduce costs.
Applications and Platforms
If a company neglected to keep their infrastructure current, most likely their applications and platforms are out of date as well. This too poses support risks. Rather than just updating, incoming CIO’s need to take a step back and determine if there is a better, more strategic platform to support the business. With companies that have made acquisitions, often times there are redundant applications and personnel, providing an opportunity to consolidate systems and reduce costs.
IT Processes and Governance
IT processes are required to repetitively deliver solutions to the business. How well are they followed? Do they even exist? Does IT have the ability to consistently deliver? Depending on the company, the IT teams may not be familiar with development methodologies (Agile, etc.). IT processes encompass more than delivery, there are governance processes, budget processes and may others that need to be assessed. This will become important prior to execution to make sure initiatives can be tracked and measured.
Vendors / Service Providers
External business partners can be critical to the delivery of solutions to the business. Especially if you are understaffed or lack expertise in a certain area. Who are the vendors currently providing services? Are they performing as required? Are there multiple vendors providing the same or similar services? If they are not performing as needed, new vendors will be needed. Depending on your project backlog, you may need to onboard a vendor to help deliver solutions. This will be determined when the IT strategy and plan are defined.
Reviewing the current contracts with hardware vendors, software vendors and service providers will provide insight into IT’s spend, dependencies and contracts nearing expiration. This information may impact the priority and timing of initiatives in the IT strategy and plan.
Executives and Business Partners
Meeting with business leaders, stakeholders and executives will help you understand how IT supports the organization, their strategic initiatives and how IT needs to support them in the future. The establishment of these relationships is critical for the success of the incoming CIO. They need to be aligned and in full support of the IT strategy and plan. There will most likely be challenges as initiatives are executed. Their support will be critical to address challenges and align their teams to support IT.
It is important for the incoming CIO to understand the financials, accounting practices and measurements of IT’s performance. Meeting with the CFO and other financial leaders will provide this key information.
It is also important to understand the financial parameters and budget you have to work with. Working with the CEO, President, COO and CFO will provide this information. If the incoming CIO is working for a larger organization, they will need to work the leaders of the Project Management Office (PMO) to align initiatives, resources, budget and execution.
Phase 2: Plan
With the meetings and assessment finding complete, the incoming CIO will more than likely have a number of items to address. There will most likely be some critical items requiring immediate attention. For me, it was the absence of a disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plan (BCP). If an unforeseen event were to occur, the company had no backup plan or way to recover. This was the first initiative addressed and delivered. Unfortunately, we needed to implement it. Faulty battery maintenance caused a short and started a data center fire. We quickly put our plan in place, switching over to our backup systems and sending the sales and customer service teams to an alternate location. Our teams continued to enter orders and our shipments left the docks as planned, without a hitch. I estimate we saved the company $40M that day, as well as their reputation with their customers.
When assembling the IT Strategy and execution plan, remember, Rome was not built in a day. There will be a number of items to address. Business value and critical items will drive execution priority, which will most likely span multiple years.
Phase 3: Align
Now that the plan is defined, the incoming CIO needs to prepare for execution. This will require alignment executives, stakeholders, PMO and business leaders. It also requires that the IT staff, vendors and service providers are positioned for execution. Additionally, communications will need to be made to ensure everyone is aware of the upcoming initiatives, activities and commitments.
In my situation, the IT organization was severely understaffed and the business units had strategic initiatives that had not been addressed by IT for a couple of years. The business units were eager to get these initiatives going. The challenge was how to support the day to day work, enhancements and strategic work without affecting the business. For the strategic initiatives, I ended up using outside vendors. For the day to day support and enhancement work, I leveraged our internal teams. The incoming CIO will need to continue to “Run the Business” while working to “Transform” and “Grow” the business.
Phase 4: Execute
This is where the transformation starts to take place. The strategy and plan are set. The staff and vendors are in place to execute. Communications have gone out. Execution and governance processes are in place. Now it is time to execute and monitor each initiative to ensure successful completion.
Phase 5: Refine
As with any business, the needs of the business are constantly shifting. IT has to respond appropriately. The incoming CIO will need to monitor and refine the IT Strategy and execution plan as needed. This will ensure that IT is meeting the needs of the company.
Making a positive impact on an IT organization and a company is extremely rewarding. It takes a well thought out plan to ensure alignment with the business and that focus is on the right initiatives. Hopefully this approach will provide a framework for the incoming CIO and highlight specific areas to address in order to be successful
Donald Hook is the founder of Full On Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm helping companies successfully leverage technology and deliver their initiatives.
He is a former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Vice President for a $14B IT services firm with over 50,000 employees globally. He has helped Fortune 100 and mid-market companies by defining their IT strategy, aligning IT and delivering complex initiatives.
For information about Donald Hook, please visit LinkedIn. He can be reached at email@example.com
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