5 things you must do to be successful in a new CIO role

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I have moved between industries a few times throughout my career. It’s always difficult to change jobs, and sometimes harder to move between industries. I enjoy always learning, growing, and taking on new challenges, so it’s easy for me. For others you hire that are switching, be conscious of the potential challenge and help them through it.

Platform Specialty Products is a globally diversified producer of high technology specialty chemical products, and a provider of technical services to many industries. Our business has grown rapidly through acquisition. This creates many challenges for IT, yet an unbelievable amount of opportunities.

In such an environment, how do you get everyone thinking with a single-minded approach? This is a common challenge for CIOs, so I’m happy to share a few best practices from across my IT career:

1. Prioritize. Obviously, crafting and realizing your vision for an IT department is a large and complex problem. You’ll identify a lot of priorities in your own company, but it’s not possible to go after all of them. Therefore, you have to decide what you are going to work on first. For example, even if you are focused on going to cloud, what are you going to do with your existing servers?

2. Deliver Foundational IT. Business doesn’t stop for upgrades. I always suggest building a basic IT strategy and launching that based on what you need to run the business, and what the business priorities are right now. Depending on your industry, that list typically includes ERP, email, security, storage and retrieval, SOX and compliance, and things as basic as expense reporting.

3. Deliver Business-Aligned IT. In every company, there is a list of things that the business wants to do right away. As a new CIO, getting everyone onto the same page has a lot of value, and sometimes that means you can put those business requests on a short pause while you get an overall sense of how the company can benefit from more strategic technology use, where that involves mobile, native apps, or customer experience initiatives.

4. Balance Strategy with Operations. It’s key to strike a balance between operational and strategic IT work. Although that sounds like a Catch-22, it’s essential. If you spend all your time with strategy, there’s no meat behind it. If you spend all your time putting out tactical fires, there’s no strategy behind it.

5. Assess Talent. Any CIO would say that you have to assess the talent you have and align that to the short-term and longer-term business needs. For example, do you have talent for the agile, iterative pace and structure of mobile application development?

And the end of the day, IT is IT. I’ve been in 20-person and 3,000-person IT organizations and the issues you are likely to face are strikingly similar, even if you take into consideration user experience, productivity, getting closely aligned with customers, and moving everybody to a digital era. That’s because every company is probably pursuing these goals today, start-up or Fortune 100. What does make sense is a common-sense approach from day one. When you arrive at day 100, you’ll be thanking yourself for it.

Stuart Kippelman is the Chief Information Officer at Platform Specialty Products Corp. Previously, Stuart served as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Covanta, a world leader in waste-to-energy and renewable energy projects. As a valued member of executive management, Stuart was responsible for the global vision, strategy and operations of Covanta's IT organization.