Considerations for a New CIO

By Terry Vahey, CIO and Associate VP for IT Services, San Jose State University

Terry Vahey, CIO and Associate VP for IT Services, San Jose State University

The purpose of technology and information is to enable success of the business, to use it effectively and efficiently to improve business success. Today, CIOs are facing with mounting challenges a hyperconnected world around data and digitization, cybersecurity, mobility, and the proliferation of devices and applications. The CIO serves as a catalyst for business transformation, leading an organization’s strategy for infrastructure, information and data, innovation and efficiency with technology. As technology tools develop and improve, our role in IT needs to evolve just as organizations evolve. We need to partner with our business departments and lead initiatives of innovation, collaborate in new ways, and lead strategies that align with our organization’s goals. When leading a large IT staff in a diverse organizational environment I found these approaches and practices are useful. Consider this article as casting votes of confidence in these particular philosophies and practices, none of which I invented, but have been crucial to success in my experiences enabling technology success in my organizations.

"Part and parcel of the agile organization is the presence of effective feedback and improvement mechanisms"

Align with Senior Executive Philosophies and Priorities

Before you are formally appointed into a position with a title including CIO, you need to have a meeting of the minds with senior executives of the organization. More than a meeting of minds—it’s really a mind meld.

Envision how IT contributes to the organization’s success and create that understanding in senior executive’s minds. This is a key to innovation and your organization’s evolution. You need to ensure that they understand the key role IT plays in the organization’s success. This alignment and partnership with senior executives needs to be nurtured like any important relationship. IT will always be a key component of organizational success and your insights and counsel for executives are key to both the organization’s and IT’s success.

Create an IT strategy that is relevant to the organization. Establish strategic IT plans with input and review from both business leaders and IT leaders, aligned with business needs and your technology capabilities. Be transparent and make the plan accessible. Show how IT supports the organization’s business objectives and goals and focuses your team where they should be focused—on business outcomes. Update the plan every year (technology changes too quickly to update it less frequently). The key to keeping IT staff focused on the right work is to share the enterprise vision and strategy with them, show them how their work contributes to the strategy and celebrate team successes. Similarly, sharing IT successes of initiatives that contribute to enterprise strategies with senior executives highlights how IT contributes to the organization’s success.

Create an Agile IT Organization

 Very few organizations remain static in any meaningful way. As your overall organization evolves in ways important to the company’s culture and marketplace, IT needs to stay in sync with proactive innovation and quick reactions. By ensuring you have both long term strategies and short term deliverables aligned with the overall organization’s direction and strategies, your IT organization will be poised for any necessary shifts while remaining relevant with the ability to provide innovation and technology solutions.

Relevant IT organizations must produce results valued by senior executives at timely intervals. The results produced by IT will be valuable and timely if they allow the organization to execute on priorities set by senior executives and supported the organizational goals. Keep your project teams close to their customers and ensure IT delivers results frequently.

Customers need to see progress regularly. Break large projects into demonstrable business outcomes in a manner that adapts to business needs. Deliver business valued outcomes frequently in the form of physical artifacts, diagrams, process documents, software, application or web site, procedures, and marketing information to support the business of the organization. The processes required to complete delivery of these collaborative functions enable measureable business outcomes and increases customer satisfaction. They increase customer confidence in the process and allow for course corrections throughout the cycle so that by the end of the project, the customer has what they want. The process encourages the business process owner to evolve what they envisioned at the beginning of the project by working closely with the IT technology experts.

You and your management team need to know what the work cycle of your organization is and you need to know how well you are meeting your internal customers’ needs. Do not allow IT to get bogged down in overly heavy or complex project tracking and status reporting methodologies. You don’t need to dot every “I” and cross every “T” at the expense of having your team produce results. Short sprints of work, producing incremental value for your organization are more likely to hit your business targets, allowing for adjustments as the organization evolves, providing satisfaction and building confidence in your teams as they see their work used and appreciated.

Implement a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Part and parcel of the agile organization is the presence of effective feedback and improvement mechanisms. Be sure you understand your customer’s needs, create methods to assess service and make associated improvements in a timely manner. Seek feedback by talking individually with people who will provide honest input about key services. Use standard customer satisfaction collection methods to receive and act on feedback about your strategic services and technologies. Make use of IT steering committees that include both IT and business leaders to prioritize IT efforts.

 Internal to IT, efficiently managing processes, services, and technology includes a culture of using defined procedures, roles and responsibilities. There are several widely accepted approaches and frameworks that guide IT operations and service management. Such frameworks provide a common language, predictable, consistent processes, measureable and improvable services and processes, and ultimately increased customer satisfaction. Don’t reinvent what is already established, start with what is available and edit for your own organization. You may wish to investigate COBIT, ITIL and Six Sigma and see what may work well for your organization.

 Continuous improvement is about changing working practices and deeply embedded habits, which can take time. It’s an ongoing effort to improve your services. It should not be viewed as a series of largely disjointed or unrelated activities competing for increasingly limited time and resources. The key is to embed processes in the culture and DNA of the organization.

Celebrate team successes, seek feedback from your customers, make appropriate adjustments, and build continuously to improve your operations and services.

When information technology works well, you are invisible. When it doesn’t, you will have a target on your back. So if your job title is CIO, have fun and strive for excellence.

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