IT leadership: Your first 90 Days as CIO

Your first few months in a new CIO role are critical. Consider this five-step approach to chart a course for success
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It's all about day one

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 most CIOs accept a new opportunity: to embrace the challenge of taking a company to the next level.

Your first 90 days as a new CIO are extremely important. You’ll have the attention of executive leadership and an open runway to chart a new course for IT and the company. To do this, you need to define an IT strategy and execution plan.

The first step in implementing transformation is to define your approach. Lay out the steps necessary for you to understand the company, culture, IT environment, challenges, and strategic direction the company needs to go.

[ Also read: IT leadership: 4 tips on achieving your goals in 2022. ]

Being new to the organization, you will need to function like an outside consultant conducting an assessment engagement. This 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 involved in achieving your objectives. My approach consists 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 likely received insights into IT’s challenges during the interview process. These insights will help you as you assess IT and the organization.

Step 1: Assess

To put together any type of go-forward plan, you need to understand the current state of the company and the environment you 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 and/or 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 will they 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?

Step 2: Plan

When the meetings and assessment findings are complete, you will have a number of items to address, some of which may require immediate attention.

For me, it was the absence of a disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plan (BCP): The company had no backup plan or way to recover from an unforeseen event. This was the first initiative addressed and delivered, and unfortunately, we needed to implement it when faulty battery maintenance caused a short and started a fire in the data center. 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 and without a hitch. I estimate we saved the company $40M that day, while also protecting its reputation with customers.

When assembling the IT strategy and execution plan, remember: Rome was not built in a day. There will be multiple items to address. Business value and critical items will drive execution priority, which will likely span multiple years.

Step 3: Align

Once you’ve defined your plan, prepare for execution. This will require alignment with executives, stakeholders, PMOs, and business leaders. It also requires that the IT staff, vendors, and service providers are positioned for execution. Additionally, you’ll need to communicate with teams 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. As incoming CIO, you will need to continue to run the business while also working to transform and grow it.

As incoming CIO, you will need to continue to run the business while also working to transform and grow it.

Step 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.

Step 5: Refine

The needs of any business are constantly shifting, and IT must respond appropriately. You must constantly monitor and refine the IT strategy and execution plan as needed to 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 stay focused on the right initiatives. I hope this five-step approach highlights key areas for success and provides a helpful framework for incoming CIOs.

[Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]

Donald Hook is the founder of Full On Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm helping companies successfully leverage technology and deliver their initiatives.

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